Case studies

Case study

Helping refugees restart their careers

Sameer Yako was living a good life. He had a prestigious job, happy family and a nice house in the city of Mosul, Iraq. Until a phone call late one night shattered his happiness and changed his life forever.

“In 2014, ISIS entered my town. I got a call from an unknown number one night, and they said, ‘Are you Sameer, the engineer?’ I said yes. They said, ‘Tomorrow we will enter your town and we will kill you’,” Sameer recalled.

“You might have a good life, but in one second it can be taken away.”

At the time, Sameer was a successful engineer at the Hamdani Municipality (local government), overseeing projects like road pavements and urban building construction. The job was prestigious, and gave him authority to approve a range of building applications. It also made him a target for ISIS.

After he hung up the phone, Sameer and his family packed a few belongings and drove to his brother’s house in Kurdistan. He has never gone back to his home.

Sameer and his family sought asylum in Jordan for 14 months, but found opportunities were limited. So they applied for refugee status to Australia and arrived in Sydney on 20 December, 2016, to start a new life.

Australia was safe. But Sameer needed to work. In Iraq, he was a qualified engineer, but in Australia he was told he did not have the necessary experience to even do unpaid volunteer work stacking supermarket shelves.

“I knew some English, but I struggled with language,” he says.

“The other barrier was, the first question I was asked at job interviews was, ‘Do you have local experience?’ I couldn’t get experience if no one gave me an opportunity. I knocked on many doors, but I was always told I needed local experience.

“I went to TAFE and studied English to help with the language difficulties. I also studied a certificate of building construction so I was familiar with Australian engineering standards.”

Then he got a break. Through Career Seekers, which specialises in helping refugees find work, Sameer gained a 12-week internship with Downer, which subsequently turned into a fulltime contract.

“I will never forget the day I got the internship with Downer,” Sameer smiles. “I felt I was born for the second time. It was a new chance.

“I just needed someone to take my hand and pull me up. Downer did that – and huge thanks to Downer Group, and the Career Seekers program for helping new refugees like me to get opportunities like this to restart their careers.”

This initiative demonstrates Downer’s contribution to achieve the following Sustainable Development Goal: #8 Decent work and economic growth