From refugee to self-employed: the story of Ferry

The road to employment for refugees in Europe is often difficult and full of hardships. Nevertheless, once an initial investment in the skills of newcomers is made, success stories of entrepreneurial, hard-working and passionate refugees abound. To showcase some of these cases, putting a face on labour market integration, The New European has entered a partnership with the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) and its program Skills2Work. In the following weeks and months, on these pages we will publish some of the success stories from the EU countries participating to the program and taken from the digital platform FromSkills2Work.

The first article of the series introduces the story of Ferry, who left Iran and is now a self-employed hair-stylist in The Netherlands. 

“Growing up in Iran, I knew I wanted to own my own business. My father had a hair salon, my mother was a seamstress and self-employment was just a normal part of life. I actually played basketball in Iran for ten years, I played for the national team. After an accident to my leg, I had to re-evaluate my life plans. I spent a summer working for my father in his salon; I gained the skills to be a hairstylist through practical experience and decided to start my own salon. So when I came to the Netherlands, I had the same expectations to be self-employed. But the integration agency wanted me to play safe, and take a job with Heineken, packing boxes; and the government wouldn’t support me financially to start my own business.

Again, I had to re-evaluate my life plans. I refused the job at Heineken, and lent money to start my hair salon. To be a hairstylist in the Netherlands you don’t need a special diploma. But I had to learn about taxes, all the paperwork, and the terminology. In Iran we don’t have tax or this level of administration. It was really difficult to adjust to this. I also had issues with the municipality regarding access to social welfare payments. Ultimately I decided that I would rather earn my own money, even if it was a smaller amount, than to rely on social welfare. So now, every day I work from 9am to 6pm at the hair salon, then I work at my other businesses, a small convenience store until 9pm. The convenience store is another investment, a backup in case something happens to me as a hairstylist. At the moment I have the energy and I am young, so it’s work, work, work. This will allow me to be comfortable later.

Owning a business in the Netherlands is difficult. It is one step forward and two steps back. Because of the level of taxes, you pay so much that it’s difficult to make progress with your earnings and business. Even if you work more, you have to pay more taxes, which is a big disincentive. It makes me want to move to a different country.

My advice for other people who want to start a business in the Netherlands- if you are good at what you do, you will succeed, but it takes time and energy. You have to have a Plan A, but also a Plan B and C and D.”

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FromSkills2Work is the digital platform of the Skills2Work project, led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) together with its partners OdnosFondazione Leone Moressa, the African Young Professional Network (AYP),Menedék, the Radboud University and the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF). It is supported by the Dutch Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA), the General Secretariat for Immigration and Emigration of the Spanish Ministry of Employment and Social Security, the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic, the Italian Ministry for Employment and Social Policies, Directorate-General for Immigration and Integration Policies and the Slovak Pontis Foundation.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.



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