‘I’ve realised my dreams’: the refugee entrepreneurs who are thriving in the UK

Research has shown that refugees are a boon for their host nations’ economies. We meet three people who are flourishing because of a social enterprise.

Research has shown that refugee-founded companies have tremendous potential to stimulate economies and create jobs, as well as reduce public spending. 

A study of 30 years of data from Western Europe discovered that refugees typically benefit their host nations’ economies within five years of arrival – findings that refute the popular misconception that refugees pose a financial burden.

The UK The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network – a social enterprise launched by the Centre for Entrepreneurs – helps refugees set up businesses. We meet three entrepreneurs who have made it big with the support of the network.


Haven Coffee founder Usman Khalid


“I fell in love with London and its cafe culture when I first arrived in the UK in 2007. I’m originally from Pakistan. I’d describe myself as a coffee-lover through and through – my day doesn’t start until I’ve had my first cup. I’m now running my company as a social entrepreneur, realising my dream of owning my own coffee business. 

“Since founding Haven Coffee in 2018, I’ve served hundreds of cups of coffee and built up a following for the stand-up comedy nights I also host, alongside names like Tom Parry and Nish Kumar.  I am also a comedian myself, and I think I’m well known in the TERN community for my sense of humour! 

“I’m also a passionate advocate for organisations like Music Action International and Counterpoints Arts, and I care about bringing attention to the flaws in the UK detention system.” 


Maria Igwebuike, founder and director of Maria Callisto 


“I’m originally from Nigeria, but have lived in the UK for over 10 years. I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and when I was a child, I loved to sew clothes for my dolls. I continued my studies at the London College of Fashion to learn lingerie pattern making and launched my own ethically-sourced, sustainable, and positive lingerie brand in 2019. 

“I want to use my platform to empower women, by creating bespoke items for all shapes and sizes alongside my seasonal collections. Sustainability is also important to me, and I recycle fabric scraps from local seamstresses and clients’ old wedding dresses to make my pieces. I also donate a percentage of my earnings. Maria Callisto’s earnings to Suffolk Refugee Support, so it can continue to support refugee children and women, as they previously supported me. 

“When I’m not at my sewing machine, I like to read the Game of Thrones books and I’m inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s saying: ‘Elegance is the only beauty that never fades’.”


Aisha Seriki, founder and CEO of Occupied By the Lense

“I’m a Nigerian, London-based creative, specialising in portrait and fashion photography. When I was eight years old, my family left south-east Asia for the UK and I’ve been living in south London ever since. My interest in photography comes from my father’s obsession with documenting all of my significant childhood events. 

“My love for photography grew while I was working towards my photography A-level exam, and I graduated from SOAS [SOAS University of London]With a BA in global liberal art earlier this year. Other creatives, including photographers, are my main influences  Adrienne Raquel, Solmaz Saberi, and Nadine Injewere. My work focuses a lot on current, global social issues. 

“I created Occupied By The Lense2017 In 2017, I completed the portrait series Heaven Is Not Closed. This series was inspired by Uffizi Gallery in Florence. While the paintings were beautiful and undeniably stunning, it was difficult not to notice the absence of black people. I wanted black women to be portrayed in a powerful way.”

To find out more, visit anqacollective.orgTERN manages a marketplace for refugees-led businesses called.

Photography: Anna Brooks

The facts:

  • 2,000

    TERN’s plans to assist in the launch of many refugee-led businesses by 2025

  • 51

    Despite the pandemic 51 percent of the 112 refugees that completed a 12-month pilot with the Centre for Entrepreneurs, 2020/21, went on to register or start trading.

  • 40

    Another 40% of respondents were planning to launch their business within 12 months.

  • 80

    TERN research shows that as high as 80 percent of refugee businesses are focused on making the world a better destination.