Refugee entrepreneurs boost Australian economy


A new report has found the success of a program assisting refugees to set up small businesses is yielding returns to Australia's economy, a finding which business groups say highlights the economic contributions that flow from a larger humanitarian intake.

For Mohamed Khatib, 'energy' is everything.

He needed plenty of it to escape Halab in war-torn Syria with his family, and then resettle in Australia last year on a permanent visa.

An experienced practitioner, Mohamed's specialty is 'pranic healing' - which aims to heal the body using a person’s energy source.

He has started his own business in Greenacre, Western Sydney. He says it is no surprise he has called it 'New Life'.

"I started a new life with pranic healing in Sydney, and it's also the start of a new life here for me in Australia," Mohamed told SBS World News. 

In just six months, Mohamed has already established himself within the local Syrian community. He hopes to expand the business further.

He said  he wants to contribute to the Australian economy.

"I hope to use these skills I have to reach and benefit everyone in the country,” he said.

“It's not good enough that you just have a skill. You should use it to teach and help others."

But Mohamed didn't do it all alone.

A new program by Settlement Services International (SSI) has connected migrants to volunteers to help them set up their small business.

Ben Benazzouzz from SSI says it is aimed at people who might lack the capital or knowledge of Australia to get a business off the ground.

"We help them obviously with connecting them with financial managers; we help them with marketing, with website, ABN number, business cards," Mr Benazzouzz said.

Professor Jock Collins has released a report on the initiative, which is also known as ‘Ignite’.

It has found migrants hold major potential to contribute to the economy, particularly through small business.

Professor Collins said the report makes a strong economic case for increasing the humanitarian intake.

An intake of 12,000 Syrians and Iraqis refugees are soon to be resettled in Australia, as part of a one-off addition to the existing 13,750 places allocated for this financial year.

"A lot of refugees like migrants from previous decades turn to a small business as a place to make their own with a lot of hard work and determination."

Business groups have welcomed the findings, saying it is a reminder of the important economic contributions refugees can make.

Professor Collins believes those contributions can be made anywhere: whether it's in the major cities or in rural areas.

"I don't think it matters where the refugees are. They've got the passion, they've got the desire,” he said.

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