"All the customers ask me why I'm smiling." - Refugee Council

“All the customers ask me why I’m smiling.”

Abdisa, Mursal, Nataliia and Kalunga describe their struggles finding work as a refugee to the UK, and how their lives have changed since.

Abdisa, Mursal, Nataliia and Kalunga describe how starting a new job can change your life. A partnership between the Refugee Council and IKEA is helping refugees to rebuild their confidence and skills, and find work.


“My name is Abdisa, I am originally from Ethiopia. I came to the UK as a refugee.

It was a difficult time. Arriving in a new country was very challenging, with a new language, new culture, and new weather, all at the same time! I had to wait for my Home Office interview to get a permit and the right to work, after two years.”

A young man with a pale jacket and a beard. He's smiling.
Photos: Sophia Evans

Arriving in a new country was very challenging…

“Now there was another challenge — to get a job. The Refugee Council gave me training online on how to write a CV, customer service, and how to prepare for an interview. After we finished all the training they came with us on interview days. Then I got a place to work at IKEA for eight weeks with the recovery team and I really enjoyed it. My team welcomed me very nicely and helped me a lot.

After eight weeks I started as a permanent part-time worker and I joined the sales department. Now I am studying and working. I would like to say thank you very much for giving me this chance.”


“My name is Mursal and I am from Afghanistan. I was a teacher. I have one daughter. My husband worked with the British in Afghanistan.

We came here with just our clothes and one bag. For fourteen months I was in a hotel, I had a lot of depression as well. It was very difficult for me.”

A woman smiling, she's wearing a light brown headscarf and a black jacket.
“When I got the email, I was very happy.”

“In every step, Refugee Council helped me. Now I’m studying and I have a job at IKEA. When I got the email I was very happy.”


“I’m from Ukraine. In Ukraine I had everything, but I lost everything. I was a fashion designer and I really loved my job.

I came to London when the war started in my country, and at that moment it seemed to me that my life was simply destroyed, because I lost confidence in everything. Here I started everything from a clean page.”

A young woman in a black and white jumper.
“I lost confidence in everything.”

Here I started everything from a clean page.

“I have a small son. After almost a year I realised I needed to find a better job than hotel cleaning. After completing the two-week training course [with Refugee Council] I got an interview and later got a job with IKEA in the customer service team. They were patient with my many questions, and made me more confident.

My manager asked what I’d like to do next, and now I’m in the design studio, and I’m doing a design course. I really like my new role, it’s close to my heart, and close to my soul.”


“I came here to the UK as a refugee. I say thanks to the Refugee Council, really I appreciate it.

At first it was hard for me, but after a few days I began to understand the work, and now I’m so happy, they’ve taught me what I can do. I start to feel like I’m British!”

A man in a black shirt and cap, he's of African heritage, and is smiling with his hands open.
“Thanks so much, London.”

“All the customers ask me why I’m smiling. Thanks so much London!” ■

The Refugee Council has partnered with IKEA since April 2021 to deliver the Uppnå (meaning “to achieve” in Swedish) Skills for Employment programme. The programme provides refugees with a comprehensive pathway to quality skills-based training and supports, alongside a paid job placement at IKEA that equips refugees with valuable work experience and skills to help them take their next step with IKEA or another employer. 

Read more about IKEA’s refugee Skills for Employment programme UPPNA and how we’re helping refugees into work.