Refugee Makes New Life For Family By Building A Business From Scratch

Against all odds Syrian refugee Razan Alsous has made a life for her family in the U.K. Today, she's the owner of an award-winning haloumi cheese company.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 65 million people have been forced out of their homes due to persecution or conflict, and there are currently more than 22 million refugees worldwide. Aside from being ripped or forced out of their homes and countries, refugees who move to new nations are faced with serious challenges on a daily basis.

Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, told The Guardian, “Around the world, refugees face significant restrictions on their economic lives. Most of the world’s refugees are not allowed to work. For those that are, there are other challenges: language, non-recognition of foreign qualifications, discrimination all pose barriers to finding a job. Refugees also face additional challenges in registering businesses and accessing banking facilities. But in spite of this, many refugees do set up small businesses, sometimes in the informal sector.”

Nearly five years ago, Razan Alsous and her husband fled from Syria with their three children and one suitcase. They arrived in the U.K., where, fortunately, refugees are allowed. Numerous countries around the world, including Greece, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Slovakia, and all the Arab Gulf Countries, still don't permit refugees. 

Today, more than 117,000 refugees live in the U.K. Alsous was determined to make a better life for her family there. Even though she had a scientific background and a degree in pharmacy, it wasn't easy for her to get a job since she didn't have work history in the country.

While she continued to search for employment, Alsous also took up making her own halloumi cheese. (She didn't like the U.K.’s version of the semi-hard, unripened goat, sheep, and cow's milk cheese.) In an interview with CNN Alsous said, “We used to eat halloumi on a daily basis but here it wasn’t as good as it used to be back home.” 

Unsurprisingly, her degree in microbiology enabled her to grasp the basics when it came to making her favorite cheese, and after being pleased with the fruits of her labor, Alsous realized that there was a gap in the market for a fresh halloumi.

After securing a startup loan of £2,500 from the Local Enterprise Agency, Alsous hit the ground running. She set up Yorkshire Dama Cheese back in 2014, and began to showcase her brand at various food festivals and trade shows.

“In Syria, I used to be active, I never sat down,” says Alsous. “When I arrived here, instead of focusing on what we had lost, I needed to think about the future.”

Yorkshire Dama Cheese continues to grow and bring on new retailers, even outside of England. Alsous's products have also won awards, taking gold at the 2015-2016 World Cheese Awards

The business has moved to a bigger location, which was opened by Princess Anne in recognition of all of Alsous's hard work and achievements. The "migrentepreneur" says this about her experience, "Behind you is a fire, so you are just running, and running, you are tired, but you keep running, and suddenly you find yourself in paradise.” 

While many fear the thought of refugees entering their countries, consider this story — one of coming to a new place, making it better by filling a gap, and educating others on traditions from far-off lands. 

Banner/thumbnail image credit: Flickr user DFID-UK Department for Intl Development 

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