Refugee Stories


Vansak was resettled from Cambodia. While in asylum, the UN trained and used him in security for the refugee camp. After resettlement, and with a little entrepreneurial ingenuity, he was eventually able to leverage those skills into his own security agency. His firm now supplies security for many shops and malls in Texas.


Ahmed came to the US as a skilled engineer from Iraq but had trouble transferring that professional license to the American job market. Upwardly Global, a national organization that helps connect skilled immigrants and refugees with employers looking for experienced talent, helped prepare Ahmed to be matched to a firm looking for engineers. Through their free online training program they taught him about American workplace culture, expectations, industry insight, and resume building. “Tapping into this kind of immigrant head hunter agency helped me rebuild my career. It was exactly the footing I was looking for.

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Refugee Bartering

Congolese refugees suggest that if newcomers had a space for a farmer’s market/bazar, where they could use a familiar system of bartering among themselves similar to what they did in Africa, they could exchange goods and services among each that would make them less dependent on aid. “We are all so spread out now. We don’t know where to go to trade and sell. The current farmers markets and flea markets cost too much to rent stalls and don’t really have the kinds of things we need. If there were something like that available to us . . . this is something we know how to do.


Seng, a Laotian, was resettled to Forth Worth in 1978 from a refugee camp in Thailand. After eight years working in the same factory, she realized she would never make a living-wage. She decided to monopolize on her pre-refugee skills of owning and operating a small coffee shop and open a similar business in her community. Today, she credits the success of owning a thriving business to her old factory boss who took the time to mentor her through the difficult process of entrepreneurship. Seng encourages aspiring entrepreneurs with limited host-county-specific business knowledge to pair up with an experienced business mentor to help navigate the process.


Paul, a Hmong, resettled from Laos thirty years ago. He wanted to be a cattle rancher like he was in Laos, but lacked the needed upstart capital and was unaware that loan options for small businesses existed. He took assembly jobs in factories where he worked for 25 years, saving money for his dream. After retirement, he took his life-long savings and retirement money and started his cattle ranch. Other ethnic members with similar ranches walked him through the process, even sharing their resources, such as labor and machinery, to get him going. Last year, he sold over 80 cows grossing more money than he had ever made in his life. Paul suggests that newly arrived refugees be given information about small business and microcredit loans so they can move into meaningful careers that earn living wages much earlier.


Abebe, an Ethiopian refugee, worked in a small bakery during asylum in Sudan. He took a job in Dallas at a convenience store for ten years that offered management skill and food regulation training. Seeing a need in the Ethiopian community, he leveraged those skills to begin to make and sell injera (Ethiopian bread) from his home. Today, his bakery has expanded to serve hundreds of restaurants, stores, and catering businesses. Abebe's experience shows us how refugees, who have to take survival-wage jobs, can seek out ones that offer skill training and credential opportunities that could open multiple options for career-laddering down the line.


Paul was resettled to the US from Laos where he had worked as a licensed pilot and mechanic. He hoped to stay in aviation but was resettled at random in an area without any airports. Unsatisfied with his career prospects within the factory where he was working, Paul quickly used his social networks to find a Laotian friend in Dallas where there were several airports and classes for the U.S. aircraft mechanic license. However, moving was costly to him and the government who spent money on his initial ill-placement. His strategy paid off as today Paul works as a lead mechanic for one of the country's largest airlines. He suggests that resettlement practices take refugee's pre-flight skills into account when assigning location. "It could save the government money and shorten our time to self-sufficiency."