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International Work

08.11.2018

A Start-Up is Helping Migrants in Mexico Integrate

We spoke to INTRARE's founder Hannah Töpler.

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In Mexico, thousands of migrants and refugees from Honduras are hoping for a better life. Their destination: The USA. What does the situation in the transit country Mexico look like?

FES: Ms. Töpler, you are running a start-up in Mexico that aims at integrating refugees. What are your goals and how do proceed?

Hannah Töpler: INTRARE links refugees with society and employers. This dual – social and economic – integration model is our trademark, and it works, as not only our first evaluations show. When the first refugee found a job through us and told me how comfortable he feels in his environment with Mexican colleagues and friends, I knew that it had been worth it to develop the dual model.

Our integration process begins with a close look at the profile and needs of every individual refugee. After this, an intensive multi-week training for social, cultural and emotional integration and for professional reorientation for the Mexican job market follows.

At the same time, we link each refugee with a mentor from their field. From these, refugees not only gain knowledge about the Mexican job market, but also first friendships. As soon as they feel ready, we connect them with partner companies and other businesses that they are interested in. We support every employer during the hiring process and stay in contact for several weeks with both them and the refugee so that their integration goes smoothly.

Integration is hard for everyone: Society and the job market do not know who is coming to their country, and the refugees have lived through trauma and have to begin their lives anew. We see it as our mission to make integration as easy as possible for everyone.

In your opinion, what are the biggest success factors regarding integration into the job market?

Three factors are absolutely necessary. First, we need to understand the migrants' talents. Unplanned migration, as in the case of refugees, makes advance planning difficult. However, for these cases a thorough profile analysis after their arrival makes it possible for them to integrate with a chance on the job market.

Secondly, the diversity, motivations and talents that refugees and migrants bring with them are not purely PR. Diversity and motivation have proven to increase productivity and creativity within teams and can can also lower personnel fluctuations. Therefore, all of us profit when we give migrants and refugees the chance of integrating into the job market.

Thirdly, community building is crucial. Nobody, especially people who have lived through traumatic experiences, can achieve professional success without a social network in their environment. Social integration requires both sides – society and refugees – to participate. If this is the case, it is rewarding for both sides. Here at INTRARE, we are witnessing this in regard to our mentors, who give us wonderful feedback on the relationship to their mentees.

Currently in Central America, a large group of people is migrating towards the USA via Mexico. How wold you assess the situation?

The people are fleeing from a combination of violence through organized crime, gangs and poverty. The situation is charged. When the by now splintered migrant caravans reach the US border, they will find out that they have practically no chance of being granted asylum under the local laws. Normally, most people enter the country illegally. However, through the military presence ordered by president Trump, this will hardly be possible.

This in turn will put Mexico under pressure to take these people in. Currently, there are no capacities to guarantee protection from organized crime, or to cover basic humanitarian needs such as potable water for the caravans. To achieve integration on top of this will be a tough battle, as both experience and public funds for this are lacking.

However, there are promising signs as well: The government has announced a program for work visas than could be very helpful. Additionally, a new government will begin its new mandate on December 1st. Public pressure is high, and it is probable that this will lead this new administration to take its responsibility to offer protection and chances to the migrants seriously.

This situation is critical and the migrants in the caravans are in a catastrophic position. However, this situation is not new in any way. According to UN estimates, around 400.000 people enter Mexico over its southern border every year. From there, they are deported, travel on to the US under extreme uncertainty or stay in Mexico under precarious conditions.

The public attention this current migrant caravan is garnering can be a chance. The fact that the US is unwilling to help these people seeking protection should not be used as an excuse. Mexico is a growing economy. It can and must offer security and chances for those seeking protection.

In the US, migrants from Mexico are denounced often, especially by Trump. Are the Honduran migrants shown more sympathy in Mexico, as the population there has made similar experiences?

Public opinion is deeply divided. Often the argument goes: Why should be help those people from Honduras, when there are so many living in poverty in our own country? At the same time, there is a lot of empathy, for instance in the towns the caravan is passing through. Of course, parallels to Mexican migrants to the US are drawn often. Their negative experiences with the Trump administration and former ones is an important topic of discussion here.

These days, we are getting a lot of sympathy and support from businesses in particular. Together, we will begin a campaign in the next few days that will focus on integrating migrants from the caravan in Mexico. The migrants who had to leave Honduras behind due to violence and poverty are supposed to get a chance here. While salaries are lower in Mexico than in the US, decent living conditions can be found here as well.

This is the focus of our work. We cannot prevent crises and violence. But we can connect society, businesses and migrants with each other. Through this, we can make integration so easy for everyone that it does not only offer protection to migrants and refugees but at the same time benefits society. And this, we hope to shortly be able to implement in other countries as well.

Hannah Töpler is the founder and head of the Mexican start-up INTRARE that is dedicated to the social and economic integration of migrants. She is a former FES scholarship recipient.


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