Could you please introduce yourself and the company you run – what it does, when it was founded, area of activity, number of employees, etc.; How did you manage to get your business here? Did you encounter any difficulties related to your refugee experience?
My name is Amir and I am from Kurdistan, Iran. I worked as a war journalist in the local Democratic Party, but because I was against the system and the increasing martial law, I had to emigrate in 2009. After my sister left and settled in Norway, I decided to follow her, but I was stopped at the border and sent back to Bulgaria. After a year I tried to leave again, but history repeated itself and I was sent back here again. Then I gave up the idea of Norway and decided that Bulgaria would be my new home. Here I decided that I would start my own business, found a partner, and entered the trade, and in 2014 I opened the company Amir Sarrut Ltd. and opened a grocery store, with typical Arabic food. From the beginning, I hired three Bulgarian women as saleswomen, but due to the presence of many similar food shops in the area, the business did not develop well. In 2019, I made the decision to transfer to the service sector. That’s when we opened the doors of Amir Hair Salon and Barber Shop. I’m not a hairdresser, nor do I try to be. I am an entrepreneur, and Bulgaria is a good country for people like me. I have hardly encountered any difficulties in starting my own business, stemming from the fact that I am a refugee. With the opening of the salon, I hired two guys from Iran and to this day I work mostly with people with refugee backgrounds. Over the years, many of my employees have left, with others coming in their place. I love employing refugees and migrants because I am painfully aware of their need for support. I know how difficult things can be like finding a place to live, opening a bank account, learning Bulgarian, finding a job, and dealing with discrimination can be for them. At the moment I have three workers and my most loyal employee is Omar, from Iran, who is now the manager of the salon. In my opinion, a successful business is mainly built on trust and I can proudly say that I have absolute trust in my employees.
In your opinion, to what extent does the business environment in Bulgaria manage to make the best use of the new cultural, linguistic, and social skills that refugees and migrants bring with them?
My personal opinion is that definitely, almost nobody is taking advantage of these indicators. A large number of graduate migrants arrive in the country every year, but since there are not many Bulgarian language courses readily available, most of them never learn it. This is why they fail to find a place in the labor market, in education and experience. This is a big problem as proven professionals have to work in low-skilled positions. This is a loss, both for individuals and for the country as a whole. As far as social skills are concerned, we are once again talking about the language barrier, which is a major obstacle to the manifestation of these social skills.
What help do entrepreneurs who want to work with refugees and migrants need most? Do you have any recommendations?
Most refugees need mainly moral support. Employers are anxious to hire such people because they are aware that integrating them into the work environment will be a difficult process. Unfortunately, they do not realize that once they lend a hand to a person in a difficult situation and manage to fit them into the work process, they will receive loyalty in return and will be able to count on loyal treatment. My advice to employers is to try to help a person in need by simply giving them a chance to show their skills and loyalty. I can also add that many refugees start looking for a job while they do not yet have the necessary documents to start one, because they are aware that they have to survive, and to survive they have to work. Processes in institutions are sometimes cumbersome and bureaucracy has its say. That is when a little help and support is not at all superfluous. On the other hand, and from my point of view as a migrant employer, I can share that one of the biggest problems for refugee entrepreneurs is credit. They usually approve insufficient and low amounts, and sometimes none at all. Some of the big banks in Bulgaria, on the other hand, do not lend to people from Iran at all because that is their policy.
What do you like the most about Sofia and the country?
I love Sofia and Bulgaria in general. The people are warm, the scenery is varied and endlessly beautiful, the climate is close to the one back home, there are four seasons and sometimes I don’t feel like I’m abroad. Sofia is like a second Kurdistan for me. When I travel and I am away from Bulgaria I feel sad and usually, I can’t wait to get back home.
BARBER’S AND HAIR SALON “AMIR” ARE LOCATED AT UL. “TSAR SIMEON” 63 IN THE TOWN OF. SOFIA
In several consecutive articles, we present the initiative “Socially Responsible for Integration”, which is implemented by the Sofia Development Association (SDA) within the project “Support for the Development of Policies and Services for Refugee Integration in Sofia”. We will present to you the employers’ opinions, their experiences, best practices, and difficulties they face in carrying out this noble but difficult task. We hope their example will encourage other companies and businesses to give a helping hand to people who are forced to leave their homes and have to start their lives again in a foreign country. You can read more about SDA and the project at www.sofia-da.eu. The project is funded by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.