Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
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Refugee businesses reopen as COVID retreats

29 October 20200 comments

Refugee-run businesses are reopening with the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions which have seen hospitality and retail venues in Melbourne closed for 15 weeks.

Dozens of hospitality, retail and service small businesses are reopening their doors this week as COVID-19 cases dropped to levels not since May.

Throughout the pandemic refugees businesses have proved resilient and innovative in the face of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, data shows.

But many of them closed or were operating at reduced capacity. Now, they are ramping up again.

Attalah Abo, who runs the Shamiat Syrian restaurant in Northcote, in Melbourne’s north, says that adapting to the COVID-19 restrictions and focusing on takeaway has meant the family restaurant stayed open and kept employing people.

But now they are welcoming dine-in guests.

“It got more difficult with the COVID restrictions but we changed the way we worked and focused on takeaway. We’ve also took the opportunity to renovate the restaurant,” Attalah said.

“Now we can start operating more normally and have customers sit down

“It’s going well we have managed to keep employing our three staff. They are amazing people and they have become part of our family,” he said.

“The COVID changes have been hard but there are many people suffering more than us. We are grateful to be here in this country and we are grateful for the support of the local people here; and also of the Australian people and government,” Attalah said.

Cosmetics entrepreneur and Iraqi refugee Fadi Abo says that selling online and targeting a global a market has meant his company ‘Clarcias’ has been able to keep trading through the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously been tragic but now we are getting more orders because people are more confident,” Fadi said.

Iranian refugee Hamed Allahyari has been selling takeaway coffee and food from his Cafe Sunshine & Salama Tea Restaurant, in Sunshine, in Melbourne’s west.

But now the social enterprise, which employs asylum seekers and refugees, is welcoming back its loyal dine-in customers.

“We are welcoming back out old customers and we can keep our people employed. It’s very exciting, “Hammed said.

An audit of small businesses last year, by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia and not-for-profit micro-finance provider Thrive, found that more than 300 had been opened by refugees in Melbourne and Sydney over the previous two years.   

Since trading restrictions were imposed in March effectively because of the COVID-19 lockdown, a follow up audit found just 11 per cent of these businesses had stopped trading or reduced their turnover by more than 70 per cent.

This compares with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures which show that across the whole economy 43 per cent of businesses have had to sack workers or place them on unpaid leave.

The ABS figures show two-thirds of businesses across all sectors reported taking a hit to revenue or cash flow due to COVID-19. Roughly the same number reported they had suffered decreased demand.

Two in five businesses said they had changed how they delivered goods or services, one-third said they had renegotiated their leases, and one in four had deferred loan repayments.

By contrast, refugees businesses typically cited their lower costs and ability to adapt to cope with COVID-19 restrictions as reasons for their continued success.

AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth welcomed the reopening of refugee businesses saying there was strong evidence to show refugees were not only more likely to start a business than most Australians but also make a success of it.

“The ABS and the OECD have produced research that shows refugees are incredibly entrepreneurial and have a resilience that comes from surviving difficulty,” she said.

“We have supported a significant number of our refugee clients to start their own businesses to achieve economic participation and independence. In many cases they have started businesses when they have been unable to find permanent and durable employment,” Ms Scarth said.