Giving refugees dignity of work at her restaurant

MOHAMED Jamal Ali, fled his home in Mogadishu, Somalia in 2012 to escape a civil war that has killed thousands so far and displaced many more.

Friday, 14 April 2017
by Rashvinjeet S. Bedi

MOHAMED Jamal Ali, fled his home in Mogadishu, Somalia in 2012 to escape a civil war that has killed thousands so far and displaced many more.

Life in Malaysia, however, is no bed of roses as jobs do not come easily for the 28-year-old, whose family was displaced to the border of Somalia and Ethiopia.

People are hesitant to employ Jamal because of his refugee status.

“Refugees don’t have anyone to depend on and most would just like to make a living,” said Jamal, who had a difficult time looking for a job.

Fortunately, Jamal now has a job as waiter at Sahana Banana Leaf Restaurant in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur, which opened on Monday.

He is one of 10 refugees – three Pakistani, three Rohingya and four Somali – employed there.

At the restaurant, the refugees are taught certain skills to empower them and give them financial freedom.

“I could buy them food today, but what about tomorrow? And the day after? I can’t help them monetarily but I can give them a job. It’s a win-win situation,” said restaurant co-owner Sathiyah Ettickan.

Although she has other businesses, this is her first foray into the food and beverage industry.

Since there were many refugees here, Sathiyah thought she could help them.

“This is an acknowledgment that refugees are a part of Malaysian society. It’s also a celebration of their courage.

“We hope to facilitate more interaction between these refugees and Malaysians, in the hope that everyone comes to understand that they have the same dreams and aspirations.

“In realising that fact, we hope many will come on board to be a part of their journey as well,” she said.

Sathiyah learnt about the refugees through Refugees at Work, a platform dedicated to helping them find employment.

The asylum-seekers at her restaurant each get a monthly salary, accommodation and food.

For them, this represents more than a good deal. Most refugees have to work odd jobs to survive, and the jobs are not regular.

Sathiyah recognises that employing displaced people has many risks.

In Malaysia, refugees are not legally recognised or allowed to work, but she hopes the authorities will support her.

Sathiyah said her efforts were in line with the strong statement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who broke ranks with Asean’s non-interference policy to condemn human rights violations against the minority Rohingya community in Myanmar.

She added that the initiative was also to support the Govern-ment’s pilot project on making employment possible for 300 Rohingya refugees.

As at the end of February, there are 149,500 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, although the actual number of refugees are estimated to be much more than that.

Sathiyah said most of the refugees were starting from scratch and required a lot of training. They would intially work as kitchen helpers and wait tables.

So far, she finds the workers are motivated and excited to learn new skills. “They didn’t know what is mutton parattal at first. Not all can speak Malay and understand Malaysian culture. There will be a need for a lot of patience,” said Sathiyah.