Refugee entrepreneurs in Brazil reinvent themselves, with the support of UNHCR’s new platform

REN volunteer, Valentina Cosma, writes about how the UNHCR and refugee entrepreneurs in Brazil are responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Additional translation by Cecilia Dini.

Refugee entrepreneurship is a growing phenomenon in Brazil, where, in 2019, 22% of refugees involved in UNHCR research were already involved in entrepreneurial activities. UNCHR partners with a diverse range of organisations evolving around refugee entrepreneurship, providing legitimacy and broader networks.  In light of the pandemic, Josè Egas, Brazil UNHR representative, aims to support refugees business owners in maintaining their economic independence through these difficult times.

Refugee entrepreneurs are reinventing themselves once again to face the socio-economic challenges caused by the Covid 19 emergency. “With this pandemic, refugees demonstrate once again their resiliency and commitment to adapt to challenging circumstances, reactivating the local economy” states Josè Egas, Brazil UNCHR representative. To better support refugees, the UN agency launched the Refugiados Empreendedoer website (Refugee Entrepreneurs). It aims to highlight refugee-led businesses online, enhancing their chances of income and inspiring others.

Five successful stories are reported weekly, including interesting insights on how refugees adapted their businesses to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The first week, five food businesses in São Paulo were listed and in the second week, more diverse activities were promoted. Portraying the stories of Renee, a Guyanese artisan in Sao Paulo, to that of Nour, a Palestinian teacher at the Cultural Hug NGO.

These entrepreneurs compared the difficulties of the current situation with the challenges faced when they first arrived in Brazil. Muna Darweesh from Syria, the owner of the Muna Arabic Kitchen, claimed ‘when I arrived in Brazil, I didn’t know the language: I couldn’t get out of the house’. Yilmary de Perdomo, owner of the restaurant Temptation of Venezuela, said, ‘I needed to reinvent myself again, just as I did when I arrived in Brazil when I was unemployed and without knowing what to do’.

Matouk, the owner of the Ssalsabil Kitchen, has already lost almost 10.000 real due to the cancellation or postponement of events scheduled until June. ‘When I arrived in Brazil in 2014, it was even more difficult. I didn’t have any money. Now, we already have a house and a car’ Matouk hopefully told VEJA magazine.