Ethiopian refugee boosts marketplace in Somalia

Targeted training programme equips refugees with vital entrepreneurial skills to start and run businesses.

Nuradin Isman and his wife work in their retail shop in Gaalkacyo, Somalia.
© UNHCR/Bisharo Ali Hussein

Nuradin Isman Salax smiles as he hands his customer a cold beverage through the shop window. The 40-year-old shop owner looks content as he stands inside his well-stocked retail shop.

“I can walk proudly knowing that I can afford to rent a home, buy food and basic supplies for my family,” he says. “I am just like any other member of the local community.”

Nuradin lives with his wife and four children in Gaalkacyo where he runs three small businesses. But four years ago, he was in a very different – and very difficult – state. His life took a very drastic turn after he was forced to flee conflict in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

“I can walk proudly knowing that I can afford to rent a home, buy food and basic supplies for my family.”

He found refuge in Somalia where currently, over 33,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are hosted, including 20,000 Ethiopians like Nuradin.

Adjusting to life in exile was extremely hard for Nuradin as he had no way to make some money.

“We had no shelter for two weeks,” he recalls. “Sometimes we went to sleep hungry and when things became worse I had to borrow money from fellow refugees to buy food.”

The situation was especially tough as Nuradin was an experienced entrepreneur and had ran a successful business back home. He nurtured hopes of one day renewing his business and sure enough, his dreams came true towards the end of 2018.

“I especially appreciated the lectures on saving money, working effectively and how to start a business.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, organized a small-business programme and Nuradin was among the refugees selected to participate. He enrolled in a technical and vocational training on entrepreneurship where he learned  book keeping, pricing, marketing, business development services, conflict management, group dynamics and resource mobilisation.

“I especially appreciated the lectures on saving money, working effectively and how to start a business with a modest start-up,” recalls Nuradin.

Somalia. Livelihoods training empowers Ethiopian businessman.

Nuradin Isman serves his customer at his retail shop in Gaalkacyo, Somalia.  © UNHCR/Bisharo Ali Hussein.

Seybatou Aziz Diop, the Head of UNHCR’s sub-office in Gaalkacyo, explains that refugees like Nuradin have shown a lot of resilience and have skills, knowledge and life experiences despite losing so much after fleeing their country.

“That is why we strive to support them and provide livelihood opportunities so they can restart their lives in Somalia,” he adds.

“I was so happy and excited after receiving this assistance... I felt independent and self-reliant.”

At the training, Nuradin developed a business plan to establish a vegetable retail store as he wanted to build on his business skills and experiences from Ethiopia.

After graduation, he received a business grant of US$ 1,000 which he used to start the retail store.  

“I was so happy and excited after receiving this assistance from UNHCR,” he says. “I felt independent and self-reliant.”

Nuradin adds that he doesn’t need to borrow money anymore or worry if his family will have enough food. He explains that the training was an important step for him to establish a successful and sustainable business – and by extension, change his life for the better.

“I can afford to have three different meals thrice a day, take my children to a good school, get quality health care for my family and pay the rent,” he explains.

With a diverse clientele that includes members of the local Somali community as well as refugees and asylum-seekers, Nuradin’s retail store has become a place where different groups of people come together and interact. His knowledge of the local Somali language has proved to be an asset as he can converse with his customers easily and has faced little difficulty as a result.

Somalia. Livelihoods training empowers Ethiopian businessman

Nuradin Isman holds his daughter at his home in Gaalkacyo, Somalia.  © UNHCR/Bisharo Ali Hussein

“UNHCR’s assistance to refugees like Nuradin has been possible through the tremendous donor support and good cooperation with the Puntland State of Somalia,” says UNHCR’s Diop.

Last year, UNHCR supported over 2,800 people of concern like Nuradin - 650 of them from Puntland State - with livelihood training which has helped promote economic inclusion and self-reliance in the region.

“UNHCR’s assistance to refugees has been possible through tremendous donor support of and good cooperation with the Puntland State of Somalia.”

In 2017, Puntland State, with support from UNHCR, adopted a Refugee Protection Law to promote local integration. By enabling access to the labour market, this progressive policy has contributed to successful integration of refugees and asylum-seekers in the host community and has helped foster durable solutions for forcibly displaced persons.

Nuradin is grateful to UNHCR for the opportunity to rebuild and hopes to expand his business and open more branches in town. He also hopes to return home one day and continue doing business there.

“Our lives have changed and this is all thanks to Allah and UNHCR,” he says. “I am lucky.”