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From Boats to Businesses: Hazara Refugees in Adelaide Embrace Entrepreneurship

6 October 2017 at 11:07 am
Luke Michael
Hazara refugees in Adelaide are becoming successful entrepreneurs despite facing significant barriers, according to a new study.

Luke Michael | 6 October 2017 at 11:07 am


From Boats to Businesses: Hazara Refugees in Adelaide Embrace Entrepreneurship
6 October 2017 at 11:07 am

Hazara refugees in Adelaide are becoming successful entrepreneurs despite facing significant barriers, according to a new study.

This long-persecuted Afghan minority group makes up a thriving community in Adelaide, with many Hazaras having fled Afghanistan by boat to seek asylum in Australia.

On Thursday, a report was released which examined how many of these refugees have embraced entrepreneurship to overcome high rates of unemployment.

The report, From Boats to Businesses, is part of a national research project funded by the Australian Research Council, on refugee entrepreneurs across the country.

Lead researcher of the report, Professor Jock Collins of UTS Business School, told Pro Bono News that the focus on the Hazara community came about by chance.

“We have already interviewed over 100 refugee entrepreneurs across Australia to tell their story and their experiences,” Collins said.

“Our first port of call was Adelaide, and while we weren’t planning to speak to the Hazara people, it was more just happenstance that we ran into them and got a good lead into their community. And so we decided to take advantage of those links to speak to that particular cohort.”

The report found the Hazaras’ move to entrepreneurship was mostly a new experience driven by necessity.

One Hazara man profiled in the report, who owned a kebab restaurant, explained: “For me I’m so happy to work in factory but it’s my own [business] so it’s good for me. Ten years ago [there were] heaps of jobs but these days lots of people are unemployed. There is no choice.

“We can’t stay on Centrelink… … I was not happy to be on Centrelink payments. It’s good but it’s not enough. They send me many places for appointment. Ten years’ experience in factory. I applied everywhere but couldn’t get a job.”

Collins said potential refugee entrepreneurs faced massive barriers to succeed in Australia, but did so through grit and determination.

“They normally arrive with no capital and their education qualifications aren’t recognised. Or in the case of the Hazara – the Taliban wouldn’t allow them to be educated,” he said.

“Their social and family networks are also fractured because of their displacement from their country. And their English is usually pretty poor and they don’t know the local markets or the local rules and regulations.

“But the reason they succeed is due to necessity. They need to make a good settlement outcomes for their families and they’re risk-takers, as indicated by their [journey to Australia] in the first place.

“So just through hard work and determination, they work many years to save up money and often establish businesses in partnerships with others in order to overcome the hurdles like a lack of capital. They also draw on family resources to help with the resources.”

Besides determination, Collins said some Hazara refugees also succeeded as entrepreneurs because of their family history.

“About a third of them come from families with business experience. So for a number of them, they want to continue that particular tradition in Australia,” Collins said.

“But often, because their labour market access is blocked and they find it hard to get a job… many decide to turn to entrepreneurship. So it’s not so much that the Hazara have a particularly strong entrepreneurial culture, but more that they realise this pathway is the best way to support their family.”

The research involved interviewing 31 Hazara refugee entrepreneurs, at least 15 of which spent time in detention (with most at the Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia) and then moved to Adelaide to settle.

However only two entrepreneurs interviewed were female, and while Collins said this was a reflection of a gender imbalance within refugee entrepreneurship, he believed there was a chance more women could eventually become involved.

“Overall, the data tells us women migrants make up only 15 to 20 per cent of entrepreneurs across the board. But it’s also the fastest growing area of immigrant entrepreneurship,” he said.

“The sample we drew on were mostly male, but that’s not to say Hazara women in the future won’t make their mark on this area in the future.”

The report also noted that there was a particular negative discourse in Australia around the worth of refugees and boat people, despite this research highlighting their success in the business community.

“This story of refugee entrepreneurship stands starkly as a counterpoint to the negative discourse on boat people and refugees that has gained such a perverse yet strong grip on the body politic in Australia,” the report said.

“By telling this story we hope that this research enables, together with other work and advocacy by academics, community workers and NGO organisations, to build a counter narrative that says, loudly, that the Hazara – like other boat people and refugees – are building a better Australian society.”

Collins agreed that the rhetoric used regarding refugees and boat people in Australia needed to change.

“Our evidence research found two things. Firstly that boat people make very successful citizens in Australia and are very optimistic for the future and thankful for being here. And secondly that when given the chance, they can contribute to the economy and create employment for other people,” he said.

“So the lesson from this is, that the negative discourse that is constructed around refugees in general and boat people in particular, as people who are not successful or worthy of being in Australia, is clearly very wrong.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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