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How we hired an Afghan tech refugee amidst chaos and uncertainty

November 25th, 2021

A reminder of how the Afghanistan crisis started

In August 2021, after the withdrawal of the USA military, which has been supporting the local government for the last 20 years, the Taliban regained ground and recovered control of the major cities in Afghanistan, including Kabul.

The old ways were brought back and women and little girls are the Taliban's main target. Because women refuse to go back to using burqa and losing their basic human rights, such as the right to have a job and work, many Afghans tried, and some are still trying, to leave the country.

Against the will of the Taliban, many succeeded, which has created an increased flow of refugees going to neighbouring countries, like Iran and Pakistan, but also to European countries and the USA.

What is a refugee?

To answer with the most accurate and Universal definition of refugee we'll have to take you to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees where this definition was agreed on:

Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country

This types of impending danger, either by oppressing human rights as basic as the right for an education (which is already being taken away of little Afghan girls) or armed threat, pushed people out of their homes and fleeing the country is the only way of assuring safety for them and their families.

What does KWAN have to do with all this?

At KWAN we're strong believers of individual freedom and helping everyone reach their full potential is one of our missions. When we heard the news we were shocked as everyone else. Seeing images of a mother passing her baby though airport fences to get him 'somewhere else but here', even if that means breaking up the family, well, it crushed our hearts.

We feel grateful and blessed to live in a peaceful country and can't even begin to imagine such reality.

We believe everyone who can help should help. — Duarte Fernandes, COO of KWAN

We asked ourselves what can KWAN do inside our influential circle. We cannot solve the conflict per se, after all we don't have military ambitions. What we can do is what we've already done for other migrants, specially Brazilians who would like to improve their life conditions by moving to Portugal, and so, by helping them settle and getting stable jobs in our country, they are free to start a new and flourishing life.

How did KWAN approach this?

Such a unique situation meant we had to throw away all the books on tech recruitment. We felt like Camões, a famous Portuguese poet that once wrote in Lusíadas: We were 'sailing in seas never before sailed'.

That was the reason that brought us to this blogpost. We feel we need to share our experience to help the Tech community come forward and lend a hand to this humanitarian crisis. Yes, we know that our story is most likely unrepeatable, as helping Afghan women leave their country today is almost impossible.

Still, we invite our competitors to do something.

In the end, what matters the most is helping the ones we can help, specially the people that are already trying to restart their lives outside of Afghanistan.

Just because you can't help the way we did, it doesn't mean you can't find other ways to do it!

•THIS IS NOT A HOW TO GUIDE •

This is OUR story of recruiting tech talent in Afghanistan

Take this as a mere sharing of information. If you have any insights, tips, or commentary, drop a line below. 

And, for all the publicly known reasons, we favoured Afghan women in tech. Women because they're persecuted and tech, well, because that's the profile we can guarantee a job for. 

So this is how we managed to see ourselves in the middle of an expatriation process for one Afghan Computer Science Engineer.

Step 1: Finding them

We used LinkedIn as our tool to reach them and see if they're open to relocate to Portugal.

Fortunately the people we can help are tech savvy and are findable this way. That was our first step.

We found that for this process to move forward, it really helps to have people identified as viable. Time is of the essence and the traditional way of publishing a job ad just isn't going to cut it. Nor open doors based on a potential job offer. 

We searched, contacted, and validated a profile and we knew that would fit our jobs - and that's how we met Nasrin!

You can also resort to social media instead, we know a successful case that was identified via a post on twitter. 

Step 2: Contact Diplomatic and Non Profit Organisations

Since Portugal and most countries don't have a Diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, issues are usually handled by the Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

We reached out to said Portuguese Embassy, back in August, who unfortunately told us to call back after September the 20th.

We sent emails to Women for Afghan Women, Women for Women International and Rescue.org

We got replies with common procedures on what steps to take next and we were given access to this shared file from Women for Afghan Women with lot's of do's and don'ts. 

The document urged us to contact our local Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we did. We contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

We were informed of a few programmes intended to retrieve people in immediate danger from Afghanistan, high profile citizens, activists, and Influential people that for their place in society could be targeted by the Taliban. 

We contacted the UK Ministry of Defence to see if we could place Nasrin in that programme since she does have an eligible profile. We also contacted the US State Department and its Office of Global Women's Issues to try and include her on their similar relocation programme. Belgium also has a programme with this intention, where they provide people with Humanity Visas.

Step 3: Wait to be contacted

This was one of the hardest part. With terrifying news coming in every minute, we were in constant contact with Nasrin, and kept her in the loop every step of the way. 

But now we had nothing left to do other than wait for a reply.

Step 4: Collaborate with authorities

That reply would come shortly after, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Portugal requesting us to fill a form with Nasrin's personal information. After talking to her about it we did and we were later contacted by telephone requesting her documents and informing us that she would be placed in an Humanitarian Corridor to bring her to Portugal. Small victory but no promises yet. She would be put on the list but now the most sensitive part began. The bureaucratic process of getting her name on a boarding list, then physically on a plane and out of Kabul. 

Step 5: Have a plan B

The initial plan was to rescue Nasrin directly from Kabul, by plane. Which end up not being possible. But we didn't give up. We suffered (and we cried) when plan A didn't work but we had to keep trying. By this point, we've been in touch with Nasrin for several weeks.

And what was Plan B? It was brought to us by the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it was a non-military, top-secret extraction. And consisted of a journey of hundreds of kilometers, by land, from Kabul to Pakistan border, then to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and then to Karachi, from where she (and 11 more refugees traveling with her) would take a flight to Lisbon.

Step 6: Help them get start on a new country

After almost two months, two attempts of extraction and many, many messages, e-mails and calls to authorities, non-profits, the military and, of course, our new consultant, Nasrin, finally arrives in the airport of Lisbon.

We couldn't believe we were finally seeing her in person and she was safe to be herself again!

But now it's when the second part of the job starts: finding her a house, getting her emotional and financial support (she arrived luggage free, unfortunately), helping her adapt to the new job, the city, the new life.

It's been about a month since Nasrin has arrived in Portugal and getting her to adapt to the new reality is an ongoing job the whole company is taking part on: from helping her get furniture or home appliances, to money donations, or simply to spend time showing her the city and introducing her to friends and relatives.

This is our story of how we managed to rescue an Afghan woman and how we helped (and are we are still helping) her start a new life in Portugal.

To get to know her story, how she managed to keep herself safe and mentally healthy for the two months she was locked at home, watch this mini-documentary: StoryTime_#2 - Leaving Afghanistan to Work in Portugal.

And now, if you're wondering how can you help, we listed below ways of contributing, so you can also be part of the solution to this crisis.

How else can we help?

The human mind tends to minimize distant events. So this Afghan situation may be seen as other people's problems. Except we're all in this together. We live in the same 3rd rock from the Sun and it is our duty, as humans, to stick for one another. Especially when we're in a position to do something, we sure ought to do it.

With that in mind, we list below some ways of helping the Afghan people.

1. Spreading Awareness

Include this topic in your casual meetings, talks with friends or family, get the word out. Share news from credible sources to your feed, share your insights and give your take on it.

Feel free to also share this article and also the video with Nasrin and Duarte's interview!

2. Donating

Find one of the many Humanitarian Non Profit Organisations involved with rescuing and helping Afghan people.

Here are some we've come across these last months:

Women for Afghan Women

Women for Women International

Rescue.org

UN Refugee Agency

3. If you can, welcome and hire Afghan refugees

Our story of rescuing an Afghan tech woman and bringing her to Portugal to work at KWAN almost didn't work out, so now our advice is for you to try to help people that are already outside Afghanistan.

It will be easier and you'll find plenty of Afghan refugees with the skills needed to take a job in your company.

Not closing doors is already, in itself, a great help.

Historically, it's Europe's job to welcome people in need. Portugal is a Nation of the world and welcomes every struggling human being. We're known for it. Let's keep this issue alive and welcome these refugees into peaceful living. 

If you're wondering how you can do it, remember, all we did to start this hire was a common search on Linkedin. And because you have access to all the steps of our journey, we believe that helping these people in need just became easier for you.

If each reader's company of this blogpost manages to help one Afghan refugee, just like we did, together we can make a difference in the lives of thousands of people.

And we can truly help Afghan women have their lives back.

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