This conversation spotlights the important contributions refugees make to our communities here in the UK and at Leeds University Business School. In this episode Professor Edgar Meyer speaks to alumnus Walid Mousa and was recorded in support of refugee week 14 - 20 June 2021.
Music: "Bloom" created by Jahzzar under CC BY-SA 4.0, remixed, duration shortened.
00:05 Edgar Meyer: Hello, welcome to another podcast as part of the diversity conversation, I have the pleasure to be in a conversation with Waleed Mousa today. Well, it is an alumnus of our M.S. and Human Resource Management here at Leeds University Business School. The conversation with Fellate is in support of Refugee Week and World Refugee Day. It is really to celebrate and spotlight all of the contributions refugees make to our community here in the UK and internationally. Our conversation will give us an opportunity to reflect on the ongoing challenges for refugees and asylum seekers face also. And we hear about Waleed's experience both in the UK but also here at Leeds University Business School. So wel come Waleed. Thank you very much for joining me today.
00:54 Waleed Mousa: Thank you so much Edgar for having me today. Thank you.
Edgar Meyer: Maybe we can start by telling our listeners a little bit more about you and what you have done since you have arrived here in the U.K. and how we come to talk to one another.tually, I came to the U.K. in:
Edgar Meyer: Yeah. Wow, that sounds fascinating. Thank you, Waleed, and I have so many questions. I know we want to talk about you, but maybe just as a slight detail. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you think are some of the biggest challenges for some of our refugees that come to the UK, particularly sort of in light in the projects that you work, such as the 28 Days Transition Project?
Waleed Mousa: Yeah, yeah. One of the biggest obstacles, actually, is the language. And we can we can see this when when refugees come to our place seeking support for, let's say, very simple issues. But because of the language barrier, they couldn't make like a phone call to solve the problem or something like this. So at first it comes the language and then after that involving or engaging with the UK labour market here, it's a bit difficult for them in order to start from the beginning and trying to, let's say, work with the UK system, a new system for them. They haven't they haven't heard about it. They don't know how the system is working here at the UK. So I think those two can be considered as like the biggest issues for refugees and asylum seekers. Also, I can add the point of social integration because most of them. I don't want to say most, let's say some of the refugees, they feel like isolated a bit, and this is our role and our organization to give them the impression that they are not alone, they are not isolated. They can engage with the society here and they have to engage because it would get them much, many benefits rather than being in your comfort zone, working or dealing with only you your own society, people who speak your own language without opening new windows or new doors for you or for you and your life here in the UK.
Edgar Meyer: Fantastic. I mean, shame to hear that some of these challenges exist, but I'm so pleased to hear that there's provision for these. Can I ask about the labour market? I find it really interesting. And of course, I would find that interesting being part of my subject area in terms of the skills that they can deploy within that labour market. Do our refugees and asylum seekers have an opportunity to deploy their skills or can they often not do what they've done before they came to this country?
Waleed Mousa: To be honest, regarding to two refugees participation, the UK labour market. I can see through my work through the last three years that some of them would suffer from work identity threat here in the UK with, for example, someone who is who was working as a taxi driver for, let's say, for more than 10 years and has in his country. And then when he moved to the UK, he needs to pass the theory test, practical test, which need good English skills. For this reason, they consider going back to the same work they used to do in their home. Countries are very difficult. And in this situation, we've got many types of refugees. Some of them, they prefer to change the whole work and can go to something that's suitable for them here rather than sticking with what they have been doing in their country before. Others, they preferred not to participate at all at the market, the labour market, and prefer to stay at home because either they are afraid or they are worried to engage or they do not believe in their abilities or abilities to do that. And others who tried to restructuring their skills or working skills in order to be fit with with the new environment here. And the last the last group where people who try very, very, very hard to to do all these things that are needed to to engage in the in the labor market here, let's say a doctor or something or an engineer or a teacher, he will go through all the exams that need to be completed here in the UK till he reached to the level he can apply to jobs here as a British citizen. So dealing with those different. I call them mentalities. It's very interesting, but at the same time, you feel like I would like to support more to give more support to people, but you try your best, but it's not always working as you would you would like to or you would dream that it would work.
Edgar Meyer: That is very interesting and really interesting insights around the different, as you say, or call the mentalities. And I'm sure we lose a lot of skill and a lot of passion in various roles and jobs by people not feeling confident and by the challenges around the integration. I think one one final question around that area, maybe around your observations, whether there are clear gender differences and whether women are more likely to withdraw from the ambitions, whereas men might be. But have you observed any differences there or does it not really shine through?
Waleed Mousa: You mean in terms of with
Edgar Meyer: How they engage with the labor market,
Waleed Mousa: I through my observation, I feel like it depends on the culture or let's say the background of refugees who come to the UK. Some cultures, they they they move to the UK and they give the chance to. To all the members or the family members to engage into the labor market here in the U.K., other cultures, they they stuck with the mentality that it's the role of the man to find the work while the woman should stay at home. And and some examples, you can find people who prefer to to keep their wives at home, even from accessing it. So they ask them not to access it or either because they are afraid of them from from the society or they feel insecure or or they feel like it's their responsibility rather than the female's responsibility. On the other side, you can find in different cultures or different societies that, you know, they motivate them, motivate their wives to go to the labor market. They and actually they've got very good chances in different industries to go through either, let's say, a caring industry. They can engage in industries that. Are suitable for women or women to prefer to work in such industries like this, for example, the caring one that I mentioned. So actually it depends, as I mentioned before, it depends on on on the culture that they brought with them. I mean, refugees are brought with them, the background and also how refugees are looking to the host society, how they are looking at the UK and the labour market here in the UK.
Edgar Meyer: Thank you. Fascinating. Could spend another half an hour, but I would like to come back to the sanctuary scholarship that you mentioned. And I have a couple of questions here. One is maybe explain to our listeners what the sanctuary scholarship is, because not everyone may know. But for me, it would also be interesting to understand what it meant for you and your family to receive such a scholarship to complete the master's her e, at Leeds University business school.tarted at Leeds University in:
Edgar Meyer: And what did it allow you to do that you probably would have not been able to do without it? So I know it allowed you to study with us at the university, but what do you think it enables you to do going forward? What what doors has it opened to you that you were able to study through the scholarship?
Waleed Mousa: The scholarship was considered as an open door for me to know. When you walked full of academy and and students from around the world that helped me to refine my communication skills, my presenting skills. And if I would like to look at the scholarship from a different side, I can see that it helped me for my future plans. So, for example, I'm a student in contact with with my teachers who taught me during my masters and I'm planning to go back to university to complete my Ph.D. at the same faculty Leeds Business School. So I think. If I were if I've been asked what was the reason behind going back to Leeds University or know people in academia, this I would say, yeah, this scholarship was the reason or was the chance for me to get engaged with with this new award.
Edgar Meyer: And if I just probed it a little do you think you could have not necessarily followed your ambitions or without that scholarship or did it even introduce you to possibilities that you didn't consider before?
Waleed Mousa: Yeah, I can consider that the scholarship actually was the chance for both things. The first one is to follow up my ambition. So I was dreaming to complete my Ph.D. and in my life, but I didn't know from where and when or how to start. And the scholarship put me in on this, let's say the first step in this path, uh, through introducing me to other people and give me the chance to know people who are very experienced in this field and and from from from this chance or from this first step, I had the guidance how to go through my future plans or how to start planning or how to start implementing my plans for the future. For this reason, as I mentioned, that people who I knew through my journey at my master's degree where the supporters for my plans to complete my PHD.
Edgar Meyer: Fantastic, that's inspiring to hear that that these things can make such a big difference. I want to come back to the beginning of your journey into university, and I'd be really interested to hear a little bit more about the transition to university and particularly Leeds University Business School and maybe whilst I want to hear more of this wonderful positive things. You can reflect on some of the challenges you have faced. Maybe tell us a little bit about some of the misconceptions some of your colleagues, maybe even staff, have about refugees and how you have responded to that and how how hard it was for you.
Waleed Mousa: Yeah, um. Maybe one one of the I don't want to consider it as a challenge, but it was something I didn't expect to to see that when I was speaking with, say, with my colleagues at class and when they knew that I am a refugee, they were like surprised because for some people, the stereotype for refugees are the people who who come to the country to stay on benefits system. They do not follow their dreams. They do not prefer to go to education or work or or things like this. That thing, OK, it was weird for me, but at the same time, it was a source of motivation to complete my journey. And I like and keep telling myself that what I am doing now is a great and if I pass it, I would be, like achieve our let's say. I think I would be in a very good position in the future for for this reason, I think this is one of the challenges that refugees face here in the UK, which is a stereotype and the stereotype spread among all the communities that you cannot do something or you cannot do that. You cannot access education or it's a very long journey or it's not for us or this is not our country or things like this. But I was very lucky to to to access education at university because of the very, very supportive atmosphere that I found at Leeds Business School, both from from the administration team, from from teachers, from students there they were they were always there to to support all of us. There's no differences or discrimination between like a refugee or a homeless student or someone from Europe. We are all the students. We all have the same rights. And we have. And they are. They are. And a difficulty to to advise us, to show us the ways that we can take and to support us always and always. For this reason, I felt like the education journey was was. It was it was, I can't see very easy, but it was good, good enough, and I was very satisfied with with that experience.
Edgar Meyer: Interesting to hear you talk about the stereotypes that individuals may have about who and what refugees are like, but also and I think that is really fascinating, the stereotypes that refugees have about their own role within our society. That is that's really interesting. And I have to say, not something that I think many will necessarily have thought about. So having talked about the fact that people have stereotypes about what a refugee looks like or what they do or what they don't do when they come to the UK or whichever country they're seeking refugee status in. What do you think are some of the main gaps in knowledge and understanding about refugees?
Waleed Mousa: I believe the main gaps that need to be taken into consideration, as I can see, the appreciation of refugees skills and how the host society should be a sustainable source of motivation for refugees and asylum seekers here in the UK, I believe if we can if we guarantee an atmosphere that keeps telling refugees that they can do or they can follow their dreams or their dreams can become true, I think this main gap will be fulfilled and refugees will feel secured to go on, or at least they will feel that they are not alone at the host society or here at the UK and and and also the gap regarding to changing the mindset of of refugees in the UK that we believe in your skills, we believe in your abilities. And we are here to refine these skills, to develop and improve promote these skills and and make you ready to participate or to get involved to this society or to the labour markets here in the UK. So these are the main two two gaps, I think we need to take them into consideration.
Edgar Meyer: Fantastic, not fantastic that these are the gaps, but good to have an understanding of what they are. So let me follow up with the theme of this year's Refugee Week is we cannot walk alone.
Waleed Mousa: Yeah
Edgar Meyer: I believe based on a Martin Luther King quote. So what are some of the things you think we as a business school, but also as global citizens can do to address some of the things you have just said? So how can we help? What can we do more of? What should we be doing more of?
Waleed Mousa: I believe I would start with with speaking from the side of the business school or a faculty at Leeds University. I think having. Continuous open days that show people here in Leeds what opportunities are at Leeds business school because for example, for me, I didn't I didn't know that there was a scholarship at Leeds University until I attended Open Day at university. And that was a completely unplanned thing. I just heard about it and I just came to university through the charity I was volunteering for the they they brought me to university. I attended one day. And when I sit with with people there at Leeds business school, they they explained to me the opportunities that they have and from from the open day I applied for the scholarship. For this reason, I think having events more and more events like this or accessing refugee charities or refugee organization, really supporting organization here in Leeds would give the chance for everyone who is working or using using the service in this industry to get to know that, yeah, they are opportunity to complete our study at Leeds university. From the side of the society, I think. Spreading or having events or spreading the idea that this is not a host society. This is your new home society and you are not here as a guest. You are here as someone who is a part of this society. And we are here to help. We are here to stand next to you. We are always beside by your side. I think having this idea of having this impression for refugees and asylum seekers would give them the power or would encourage them to go through all of their plans and believe that, yeah, we are not alone and the society as got our back, and they will protect us, support us and provide us with all the needs we we are looking for. So I think this is one one of the things that society can do.
Edgar Meyer: Thank you. I think the latter part is really important. It seems a reframing of you not here as a guest. You're part of our society and you're part of us now. And we want you to be part in your full, authentic self. So I think there's lots to do around here, particularly as sort of the thing that you said earlier and around how we value their skills and contribution. And I already have lots of ideas on how we might want to profile and highlight some of these skills and contributions that you're making. Thank you. So I think there's a real big call for action for us to begin to think about how we can support you so that you don't walk alone. There are, of course, lots of fascinating things that that we could talk about, but are there one or two things that you think we we haven't talked about that we need to talk about.
Waleed Mousa: I think we we have covered all the points that I, I wanted to to talk about.
Edgar Meyer: So let me ask you one final question then. And that is very much about now that you have had this experience, now that you have been able to reflect on the experience as a refugee, but also to success, but also support other refugees in then coming to the UK and settling, What advice would you give fellow refugees? What do you wish someone would have actually told you?
Waleed Mousa: So the advice that I would like to tell each and every refugees and asylum seekers here in the UK that once you arrive to the UK, you have the chance or the choice to choose whether you would like to stay at home and getting your benefits and keep your life without any new things and lock yourself in your comfort zone. Or follow your dreams and try to compete in your new society and looking for people who can support you to achieve your dream or achieve your main goal, either educational goal or something related to employability. And I really hope that someone advised me this and I really found people who motivated me that, yeah, you can start a new thinking and achieve it and start a new life, but it just needs time, needs encouragement and no time for demotivating. You should be always and always motivated.
Edgar Meyer: Thank you Waleed. I don't think there's much I can say to close this off any better our conversation and these are inspirational words and hopefully we as a business school, but also as individuals within this university, we can be some of these motivating individuals and supportive individuals. Again, thank you very much for your time, for your openness and for sharing your experience with us.
Waleed Mousa: Thank you so much. Thank you so much as well for having me today. Thank you.