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In Germany, Tech Leaders Teach Refugees How To Code


Remember the refugees who streamed into Europe the summer before last? Germany took in most of them, more than half a million. But still, most of them have not found jobs. Germany's integration minister tells the Financial Times she expects no more than a third to enter the labor market in the next five years. In the tech field, where there are lots of jobs, startups are trying to buck that trend by training newcomers. Joanna Kakissis reports from Berlin.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Young women, some in headscarves, sit around a long rectangular table typing code into their laptops. They're designing websites.

ABEER ALMUHDAR: And that's absolutely every lady's dream (laughter).

KAKISSIS: Abeer Almuhdar is a former office manager from Yemen.

LAYAN ALSADI: (Speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: Next to her is Layan Alsadi from Syria, who hopes training in tech will lead to a well-paying job that will finance her dream of becoming a filmmaker.

ALSADI: Director.


ALSADI: Director.

KAKISSIS: The class is run by FrauenLoop, a Berlin-based nonprofit focused on bringing more women - especially refugee women - into the tech field.

NAKEEMA STEFFLBAUER: The labor market desperately needs tech. And particularly in Berlin, the need is severe because you have startups everywhere. You have growing companies. And everybody's recruiting.

KAKISSIS: That's Nakeema Stefflbauer, the American who runs Frauenloop. She recruits 15 students for each 12-week course.

STEFFLBAUER: I am tending to get women who say, oh, God, finally something that's not cooking or sewing. I went to university. I have multiple degrees. You know, I spoke to their professional ambitions.

KAKISSIS: Stefflbauer also introduced them to FrauenLoop teacher Haneen Abdallah, a software engineer from Damascus who now works as an Android app developer.

HANEEN ABDALLAH: I'm refugee here, and I already got job. So it's not something in the sky or some dream that you're talking about. It's something real.

KAKISSIS: The students marvel that Abdallah managed to flee Syria by securing a student visa.

ABDALLAH: They always say, oh, you're lucky, and you're a little bit more, like, advanced. I always try to give them positive feedback about you can do it, you can make it, don't give up, and you have to focus. Don't let being refugee put you down.

KAKISSIS: Five FrauenLoop students are up for six-month paid internships at Deutsche Telekom.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're always providing (unintelligible).

RIECHERT: I've been eating so many of these.

KAKISSIS: Anne Kjaer Riechert, who trains refugees at the ReDI School of Digital Integration, acknowledges that not enough German companies are hiring refugees.

RIECHERT: You know, there is no silver bullet. There is no solution that fits all. I do not, by any means, claim that, you know, this is a solution to the refugee crisis. Of course, we're only working with a certain segment of the refugee population that have arrived in Germany.

KAKISSIS: The Institute for Employment Research says only about a quarter of Syrians, the largest refugee group here, have college degrees. Less than half have high school diplomas. Riechert's school reached out to a group of Syrian moms struggling with German and job training to set up an e-shop called Jasmine Catering.

RIECHERT: Mostly older Syrian women are coming together, cooking together, and then that catering is then provided to big organizations.

KAKISSIS: Refugees want to integrate as badly as the Germans want them to, says Munzer Khattab, an alumnus of the school. He's a former architecture student from Lattakia, Syria, now working in graphic design.

MUNZER KHATTAB: Whenever you want to build a new life, it'll be, like, super hard. You have to work hard on your language, study a lot. It's like pressure from everywhere.

KAKISSIS: So he's developing a smartphone app called Bureaucrazy with other Syrians to help newcomers navigate the piles of paperwork in Germany, so they can focus on job training. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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