June 1, 2022

Afghan woman restarting her career in the Netherlands

Meet Muzhgan, the 34-year-old Afghan former employee of the Netherlands embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. With the Taliban takeover of the country last August, Muzhgan was evacuated to the Netherlands where she is now using her skills to start a new career.

Muzhgan was busy working on her career at the Netherlands embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, when in a matter of days, her life was turned upside down. The 34-year-old had started as a Consular Officer and then also became a Personal Assistant to the Netherlands Ambassador to Afghanistan. Yet, as the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021, Muzhgan knew that everything she’d worked for was now in jeopardy.

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like many other governments, took the emergency decision to evacuate some of their local embassy staff whose lives may have been in danger from Taliban militants because of their work for the Netherlands or non-governmental organisations. “How can we progress here?” Muzhgan questioned herself. So amidst the deadly chaos at Kabul airport, she boarded a military plane to the Netherlands, alongside 36 of her former embassy colleagues and their families. 

Arrival in the Netherlands
Due to the unplanned, emergency nature of their evacuation, Muzhgan and her fellow Afghans faced great difficulties in the first few months of arriving in the Netherlands. In applying for refugee status, they were housed in detention centres around the country and regularly moved from one camp to another. Along with having to share the facilities with many other people, the struggle also lies in the lack of good facilities – should someone need to study or work, there is barely a comfortable place for it. “There’s no choice for us but to be patient about the situation,” said Muzhgan.

Matching Afghans to jobs
SPARK, with over 28 years of matching youth to labour markets, was requested by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support the Afghan former employees of the embassy to find new jobs in the Netherlands. The KabCare programme was launched.

SPARK’s refugee job placement model provides the Afghans with intensive Dutch language courses, conducts assessments of their skills and capabilities, analyses appropriate employment sectors in the Netherlands and matches candidates to suitable vacancies. By working with Tempo-Team and USG Restart, the largest job coaching organisations in the Netherlands who provide skills training and one-to-one coaching, SPARK is guiding the group of Afghan newcomers towards integration and job opportunities in the country. 

Muzhgan Mehr, Afghan refugee and former Netherlands embassy staff at the SPARK office in Amsterdam © 2022, SPARK
Muzhgan Mehr, Afghan refugee and former Netherlands embassy staff at the SPARK office in Amsterdam © 2022, SPARK

Muzhgan’s organisational and language skills quickly stood out, and she was hired by SPARK in March 2022 to support the running of the new KabCare programme, as well as operations within Afghanistan. Muzhgan found herself using the existing skills she has at her new job.

Having spent 10 years working at the embassy, Muzhgan now deploys her knowledge of Afghanistan and makes use of her network there. Moreover, she has a broad understanding of the relationship between Afghanistan and the Netherlands. “Contacting people and coordinating with them are the kind of interesting things I do now that gives me a positive energy,” she said. Utilising the same skill sets, despite the jobs being different, makes it easier for her to adapt to the new environment.

Muzhgan Mehr, Afghan refugee and former Netherlands embassy staff at the SPARK office in Amsterdam © 2022, SPARK

Hopes for the future
Undeterred by such circumstances, Muzhgan looks ahead full of hope. Her initial goals when arriving in the Netherlands were to learn the Dutch language and be employed. “I’ve managed to pull off both those things with the help of SPARK,” she said. She considers these to be the foundation of her future: “everything is in the base. If the base is completely strong and built correctly, then step by step, getting to the future will be easier,” she noted.

The next step in her plan is to obtain a driver’s licence to ease her everyday life. “When refugees come to a new country, they need a guide. I needed a guide, and I was very happy to have SPARK as an organisation to help us and guide us,” said Muzhgan. With guidance, a job she enjoys and mastery of the Dutch language in the works, she believes there are bright days in store for her.