Refugee Entrepreneurs Bring Hope Away from Home
Hope Away From Home is the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day. Spotlighting the stories of five refugee entrepreneurs with diverse businesses, we explore how refugee-led companies each bring hope to their displaced communities.
Nesrin, 28, has been studying law in her hometown Aleppo before the war in Syria began. Now living in Türkiye, she founded a clothing printing company. “As Syrians, we cannot travel outside of our cities easily. I would like to travel to İstanbul to meet with T-shirt sellers but I need to apply for a permit…Some sellers also make it difficult for me to buy products because I am a woman. They are unwilling to have a woman operate in the same sector as they do.”
Pointing to one of her personal designs that reads ‘Success Depends on the Second Letter’ she says: “I like this one a lot – it motivates me, and reminds me that success of my business is all up to me.”
Filling gaps in the market
South Sudan imports the majority of its milled maize flour from Uganda, which can be costly and time consuming. Noticing a gap in the market at just 18-years-old Michael, a former South Sudanese refugee, purchased a maize miller. Farmers visit the mill with their produce to be ground down to flour and sold in markets across the region. The company also buys maize from the local farmers, thereby creating a market incentive for the farmers to think ahead and plan commercially.
“Another market niche I have identified is processing cassava flour,” Michael confided. “If you visit the local restaurants, they all process cassava flour by pounding. If I can process this flour and supply the restaurants, that would be a good business.”
Employing other refugees
“The business idea came from the community I grew up in. I wanted to help families to secure extra income by giving them opportunities to work from home.” Hamzah sells homemade ready-to-cook meals to restaurants, hotels and malls and works with a team of more than 10 refugee women who prepare the food.
In the first year of the business, Khasitna had more than 30 contracts with hotels in Amman, 10 malls and more than 100 subscribers.
Challenging negative stereotypes
After restarting their lives in Türkiye, Mohammad and his six siblings immediately started looking for ways to support their family financially. The brothers founded an e-commerce site named after their mother, AsumSaray, which is catering to the huge numbers of Arab customers in Türkiye.
“What gives us the passion for continuing is to prove that refugees are capable. We can have businesses that contribute to the prosperity of the host country’s GDP. We create jobs and ensure that we’re giving opportunities to people with disabilities.”
Role models for youth
Awjalan Fatimi, a 24-year-old IT graduate, lives in Darashakran refugee camp, near Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He founded the camp’s first-ever gaming centre, receiving 40-80 keen, young gamers per day. The centre provides a safe place for young people to meet, relax and game.
“Young people, especially kids, love coming to my place. It takes their minds off of what’s happening around them and in their home countries. They always ask me to play with them and show them gaming tricks. To them, I’m some sort of hero!”
Refugee entrepreneurs traverse huge obstacles in establishing their enterprises, often navigating complex labour restrictions and freedom of movement. However, refugee businesses often fill gaps in the market, especially for the communities they come from, and build businesses that employ other refugees, as well as local people, giving their companies unique perspectives, skills and potential.