'Refugees in tears': Barriers for highly qualified Syrians in Australia

They are highly qualified and desperate to get off welfare but many Syrian refugees who have made Australia their new home are struggling to find work.

The final straw for Syrian refugee George Najarian and his family was when the Aleppo school his two younger sisters attended was rocket-bombed.

His sisters were safe, but the family was not going taking any more risks. They fled to Lebanon to escape the war.

"I had a wonderful life there in Syria, but after the war everything totally changed – we had no electricity, no water," Mr Najarian told SBS News.

The robotic engineering student even once escaped being shot on the bus to university.

George Najarian and his family in Syria.
Source: Supplied/SBS World News

"The snipers – they were trying to kill everyone," the 25-year old, who was in his fourth year of study before leaving Syria, said.

But even for those who made it to university, it was not safe.

"A couple of my friends, they died," Mr Najarian said, recalling when a grenade was thrown at students.

The family of Armenian heritage were refugees in Lebanon before they found out Australia was looking at a special intake of 12,000 Syrians and Iraqis for resettlement in 2015.

Luckily they had relatives in Australia who helped them through the sponsorship process.

It was an emotional moment when Mr Najarian found out from an embassy official he would soon be calling Australia home.

"I was crying, I was crying," he recalled.

"It was my happiest day of my life."

George Najarian and his family arriving in Sydney airport in 2017.
Source: Supplied/SBS World News

Refugees in 'tears' wanting jobs

In just one year since arriving, Mr Najarian is already working at a family jewellery business, is volunteering for the Australian Red Cross as a youth advisor and hoping to resume his engineering studies.

But there are challenges, Australia will not recognise his prior knowledge and he has to start from scratch.

It is a frustrating prospect for the 25-year-old who says he just wants to get professional work and give back to the country that gave him a new life.

"I have to start from all over again but, you know, I'm very optimistic," he said.

Mr Najarian is not the only one in the cohort of Syrians and Iraqis that came under the special intake announced by the Abbott government in 2015 experiencing such barriers.

Many of those in the group are well-educated, some with university degrees, and had successful careers prior to coming to Australia, a new report has found.

But their biggest concern is finding a job despite having qualifications from home.

UTS Social Economics Professor Jock Collins, surveying 50 Syrian refugee families resettled in Queensland
Source: Supplied/SBS World News

The findings are contained in a preliminary report from UTS Social Economics Professor Jock Collins, who is conducting a research project into how well the 12,000 refugees are faring in Australia.

"You've got dentists, you've got engineers, you've got people who've worked as head of management departments with multinational corporations so they're very, very successful," he said.

"But even when qualifications are recognised there's a catch-22, they can't get a job because they don't have Australian experience and if they don't have Australian experience they can't get a job, so this is quite a cruel irony."

For the men sitting around all day on unemployment benefits, not doing anything was frustrating, he said.

"We've a number of people almost in tears about just demanding, wanting an opportunity," Prof Collins said.

The chair of the federal government's Settlement Services Advisory Council, Paris Aristotle, said the system should be more creative and flexible in assisting qualified refugees.

"That way people can become self-reliant, independent and contributing members of the community much more quickly," he said.

He suggests that could be done through allowing refugees to get additional training or internships and work experience in their industry of practice, as well as changes to mutual obligation for Newstart.

"The more effectively we can support people to become functioning, productive members of the community and that leading to citizenship is really important. We should invest in that," Mr Aristotle said.

Published 15 March 2018 at 6:59am, updated 15 March 2018 at 8:03pm
By Rashida Yosufzai