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Refugee Week: MiFriendly Cities Refugee Entrepreneurship & Skills Event

Birmingham is celebrating Refugee Week with a series of events starting on Monday (17 June) which will showcase success stories of people from newly arrived communities who have made our city their home.

The event – which is open to the public and hosted by MiFriendly Cities – features inspirational individuals like Omran Al Habbal, a Syrian refugee who came to Birmingham in 2016 to study and since set up his own business platform and now provides entrepreneurship training and mentoring to students at Aston University.

Omran – who is also director of Aston-based creative agency bloomup and was recently named as a finalist in the Birmingham Mail’s 30 Under 30 campaign – is just one of the speakers lined up for the event at Bosnia House, in Medley Road, Birmingham on Monday (17 June).

He said: “As a refugee my focus was always on developing my business ideas and I want to inspire and support  other refugee to use their skills and entrepreneurship as soon as possible upon their arrival in the UK to ensure the individual and the economy benefits.”

Alongside Omran, they will hear from Honorine Nzessie from Cameroon who, after enduring an eight-year wait for asylum, now owns a thriving restaurant in Hockley, which is also a focal point for the community; Fuad Mahamed who, as a Somalian refugee himself, established one of the leading providers of refugee housing and integration support – Ashley Community Housing; and Alma Aganovic, who arrived as a child refugee from Bosnia in the early Nineties and is an now executive director South and City College Birmingham.

They have shown immense resilience and determination to pursue their aspirations, and now want to share their stories to inspire others and demonstrate how refugees and migrants are making positive contributions to our city. Nationally, migrant entrepreneurs are responsible for the creation of 1 in 7 UK companies and businesses, as well as the creation of 14% of all British jobs.

Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities at Birmingham City Council, who will be speaking at the event, said: “Birmingham is a friendly, cosmopolitan city which is proud of the warm welcome it extends to all people from all corners of the globe: it’s the UK’s most ethnically diverse city with a population made up of 187 different nationalities.

“As a City of Sanctuary, our welcome has to be more than just a greeting: it must mean inclusion, participation, recognition and appreciation. Migration for whatever reason tends to demonstrate a higher than average capacity for entrepreneurialism. Being able to help newly arrived communities in the city tap into this and play an active part in the local community and economy is vital. 

“Similarly, our welcome for those refugees and migrants looking for employment must be as much about enabling them to develop new skills as about helping them to find opportunities that fit with their existing experience, qualifications and skills.”

The MiFriendly Cities project works across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton to unlock opportunities for refugees and migrants and to enable whole communities to recognise the benefits that migration brings, when this is done well. It also offers a range of employability and entrepreneurship pathways and support, including social enterprise training and start-up grants to the value of 5,000 euros.

Visitors can also find out about a range of courses, programmes and initiatives available in the city to support refugees in building their careers, such as the National Careers Service.

MiFriendly Cities is working to achieve lasting change in recruitment practices, retention and development of migrant workforce – themes that have been discussed with employers across the West Midlands. The MiFriendly Cities Employers’ Guide offers advice to employers in how to tap into the potential offered by candidates and employees with refugee and migrant backgrounds. 

Whilst employability and entrepreneurship are a key part of the MiFriendly cities programme, there is also a variety of initiatives running across the social and rights-based aspects of integration. The project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through Urban Innovative Actions. It is made up of 11 partners from public, private, academic and community and voluntary sectors.

Admission to the Refugee Entrepreneurship and Skills Event is free.  To book your ticket please visit

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European Union & Urban Innovative Actions

This project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative.