Since 2015, migration issues have risen high on the agendas of governments around the globe in  response to the large influx of migrants and refugees leaving their home countries due to political issues, war, or in search of higher wages. In September 2016, the UN adopted the New York Declaration, calling for the strengthening international cooperation on migration and for the development of two collaborative instruments on regular migration, and on refugees. Both compacts emphasize the issue of socioeconomic integration of both migrants and refugees, including through support to self-employment and entrepreneurship. These compacts are based on the premise that migrants and refugees can contribute positively to the development of communities back at home or in their new places of residence, provided that their skills, capabilities and entrepreneurial spirit – often acquired in migration – are given enough support and recognition.

Indeed, migrant and refugees face monumental challenges when starting a business. Many of them lack formal education, financial capital, social capital, knowledge of the local language, market and regulations. However, despite significant hardships, refugees are pushing the limits of what most people recognize as the entrepreneur spirit. There is a resilience among refugee communities that enables them to thrive, not just to survive, and to be creative members of society.

 And why shouldn’t they?

This week, we have rounded up some inspiring stories of refugees who are creating opportunities from very little and are displaying strength and resilience in some of the most difficult situations.



Abu Mahmood is a former electrician who fled to the Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp and decided to set up his own shop with some spare money.  Abu has brought a slice of normal life to refugees and aid workers in the Zaatari camp where he lives, by starting the camp’s first pizza shop: the Mu’ajanat Esalam (literally the Pizzeria of Peace). The restaurant also has a bike delivery service, allowing for delivery to the over 80,000 people who call the camp home. And, Abu is not the only one! According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 2000 shops have sprung up in Zaatari, all of which are owned by refugees. The camp now has its own economy, with the market bringing in more than $10 million a month.

Read more about Abu’s story: here!



Mohammed Osman Ali, a refugee in Uganda, is making the best of a bad situation, setting up a business games! In 2014, Ali arrived in the biggest refugee camp in Uganda, hidden in the back of a truck fleeing the war in Somalia. Today, he runs a video game arcade for other refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia and fellow Somalis. Ali has faced several problems running his arcade. For instance, his game controllers broke as quickly as he could buy them. Ali figured out the problem: refugees generally had witnessed war and seen family members killed so they were unloading their stress, smashing their thumbs into the buttons of the controllers. But, Ali learned to repair old controllers from the wreckage of older, junk ones. He has recently invested his profits in five more PlayStations and new screens to expand his growing business.

Curious to discover more about Ali? Have a look here!



Amneh Yakum Abbakah, a 40-year-old grandmother and resident of the Djabal refugee camp, has become a successful entrepreneur. Amneh has been living in this camp in Eastern Chad since it opened a decade ago to absorb the massive flow of refugees fleeing violence in Darfur. Amneh learned to weave through a training program for refugees and soon started her own business. Now, she successfully runs her own shop and she is able to supplement her family’s food rations and get special additional things, like spices.

Discover more about Amneh’s story here!

And...What if entrepreneurship becomes a tool of integration?

In 2016, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by the United Nations General Assembly highlighted that entrepreneurship can be an effective way to include migrants and refugees in local economies, by sharing their knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit, and creating new market opportunities and cross-border networks.

Check out some examples of how entrepreneurship development programmes can help refugees and migrants, and foster sustainable livelihoods:

  • Esmeraldas, one of Ecuador’s least developed provinces, has seen the arrival of over 24,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the past decade. In this context, the UNCHR in partnership with government, private sector, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, and academic and financial institutions has developed a business incubator for refugees. The aim of this programme is to help make refugees economic actors in their communities and agents of their own integration, while also contributing to the development of the country by generating employment and supporting the creation of small businesses. Read more here!
  • The Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE), Refugees Forward and entrepreneurship school Team Academy have teamed up with refugees who are now entrepreneurs to run a 4-month intensive incubation program in Amsterdam. The aim of the projects is to give to refugees the opportunity to improve their businesses by way of mentoring, networking opportunities, training and access to workspace. Moreover, this represents a great opportunity to advocate diversity in entrepreneurship and to stimulate entrepreneurs in different economic and social positions. Learn more about this programme on ACE’s website!

Curious to know more about how entrepreneurship could be used as a tool of integration? Have a look at the UN’s Policy Guide on Entrepreneurship for Migrant and Refugees.

Header Image Courtesy of: Wikipedia Commons. Other pictures: UNHCR/Nasserddine Touaibia

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