Business

The sisters offering help with jobs to Syrian refugees

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Media captionPhil Mercer reports on plans to help Syrian refugees in Sydney

The hospitality industry can be, well, pretty inhospitable at times. Chefs can be as fiery as a mouthful of chillies and tempers in commercial kitchens can flare like fat on a griddle.

It's in this pressured, yet rewarding, environment that Australia's fabled restaurant trade is offering refugees from the conflict in Syria the chance to forge new careers.

The idea has grown from a casual chat among friends into an exciting plan to offer training and work experience to migrants fleeing persecution and destitution.

The project's epicentre lies in Sydney's trendy inner city suburb of Darlinghurst, at Almond Bar, a Middle Eastern restaurant, run by Carol Salloum and her younger sister, Sharon.

With help from experienced hands in the industry, they are putting together a jobs and skills programme for those displaced by war.

"It makes good business sense for anyone," says Carol. "A lot of people who come from overseas … they want to work, they want to create a life for themselves.

"They are not lazy, they'll take on any jobs that they can. You can see that from the migrants that are already here and that we've employed."

Organisational skills

Carol and Sharon's parents arrived in Australia from Syria more than 40 years ago.

It's early evening in summer, the tables are filling up and Carol is at the front greeting diners.

Back in the engine room chef Sharon is in full-flow preparing dishes that include shawandar, a roasted beetroot mix, mansaf, a Syrian-style slow-cooked chicken, and Syrian roast beef.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia has said it will take 12,000 Syrian refugees

The sisters have owned the business for eight years, and it shows. It's a slick operation, and it's these well-honed skills and organisation they hope to pass on to those displaced by fighting.

They'll work with a professional refugee resettlement service and a cross-cultural psychologist.

Sharon tells me they simply want to do their bit to help.

They still have many relatives living in Syria, and she says, it could be any of them having to travel to Australia as refugees today.

"We're lucky enough that is not the case but that could very well have been one of the many aunties and uncles that we still have, or cousins that we still have, over there at the moment, so why wouldn't we help?" she says.

Sharon's parents were from Homs, which has been on the frontline of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Family help

In late December, another former resident of Syria's third largest city landed in Sydney to start afresh. Fifty-year-old Iymen Baerli, his wife and three young children had previously sought safety in Egypt, before being offered sanctuary in Australia.

They arrived as refugees on New Year's Eve, just in time for celebrations of new beginnings.

Image caption Iymen says his relatives are helping teach him the skills he needs to run his own business

Iymen tells me that that after so much destruction in Syria, Australia is the "best country for my safety and my family's future."

The former pharmaceutical salesman has ambitions in the catering industry making cakes and sweets, a move inspired by his brother-in-law Ibrahim, who owns a bakery in Sydney's Guildford district.

"It is very important for me to find a good job and I have started to establish my own business," Iymen explains through a translator.

"I am depending on my relatives to teach me and train me to run my own business.

"I am very thankful to the Australian government for everything it did (for) me but I don't want to depend on the Australian government.

"I want to establish my own business for my own sake and my family's sake, and I want to create (a) good income for me," he adds.

Business support

Iymen would no doubt benefit from the sort of help to be offered by the Salloum sisters and their cohorts. Their project is called "Ahlan," Arabic for welcome.

"We're in the hospitality industry and we're being hospitable," says Hugh Foster, who has been running Middle Eastern restaurants in Sydney for 20 years, and is one of the original brains behind the training scheme.

"We know people who would employ cooks, pastry chefs and bakers, but we also could find jobs for electricians. We could find people who maybe have worked in printing," he says.

"There's a myriad of industries which service the hospitality industry. It employs a lot of people.

"What we are trying to do is say 'here you go, we can help you into this industry if you're interested'."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some argue that Australia should take between 20-30,000 Syrian refugees

It's not just the catering trade that is eager to help. Last year, several large companies came out in support of the "Friendly Nation" initiative, which aims to provide jobs and training for the 12,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Australia.

Refugee contribution

In January, a group of senior Australian business leaders toured refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon to see the fallout from the Syrian conflict for themselves.

"The crisis is far worse than we expected. This is a real tragedy," says Tony Shepherd, a former head of the Business Council of Australia, who travelled with the delegation.

He believes the government in Canberra should offer protection to between 20-30,000 displaced Syrians.

"We have shown our great humanity in the past. It has worked for us. Refugees have made an enormous contribution to the development of Australia.

"I think it is within our economic and humane capacity to do it," he adds.

"The Syrians appear to be hard-working, entrepreneurial people who are prepared to have a go. All they want to do is get into jobs."