Annick’s business is cooking with gas
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Four inspirational stories of refugee women

For International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the stories of four resilient and entrepreneurial refugee women.

Women and girls make up around half of all refugees and displaced people worldwide.

With help from UNHCR, refugee women are building new futures for themselves and their families.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re sharing four stories of women whose strength and resilience serve as inspiration for people around the world.


Syrian refugee Salsabil cooks typical Arabic dishes in Brazil.
Syrian refugee Salsabil cooks typical Arabic dishes in Brazil. © UNHCR/Érico Hiller

Salsabil lived in the Syrian city of Douma with her husband, Salim, until war broke out in 2012, forcing her to flee to Jordan and then Saudi Arabia. Eventually, Salsabil and her family settled in São Paulo, Brazil, thanks to the country’s humanitarian visa program.

Once in Brazil, UNHCR supported her with a business mentorship, so she could learn the skills she needed to launch her own business. 

With the knowledge she gained from UNHCR’s mentorship, and her strong can-do attitude, Salsabil started a catering business, Salsabil Kitchen, serving traditional Arabic dishes. 

“For me, there is no such thing as ‘no’,” Salsabil says. “If somebody asks me if I do something, I say ‘I do’ even if I actually do not. Then I learn it until it works.”


Zeynab explains how a tailoring course helped her launch her own business in Shiraz
Zeynab (left) explains how a tailoring course helped her launch her own business in Shiraz, Iran. © UNHCR/Maryam Hossaini

When Zeynab’s husband died of cancer, the Afghan refugee was left to raise three children on her own. Her husband’s medical bills were also piling up.   

With UNHCR’s support, Zeynab bought a sewing machine and, using her entrepreneurial spirit and tailoring skills, grew her business from a one-woman operation to a large organisation that supplies gowns and bedsheets for one of Iran’s biggest hospitals.

Since 2014, Zeynab has offered internships to hundreds of Iranian and Afghan women, so they too can start small businesses and become financially independent.


Nermiin with her delicious homemade pastries
Nermiin with her delicious homemade pastries. © UNHCR/Max-Michel Kolijn

When they arrived in Estonia, Nermiin and her husband Mohamad, both Palestinian refugees, began searching for a venue to open their own café. However, they soon encountered discrimination – nobody wanted to rent to them.

Instead of opening a café, the pair started to work from home, with Nermiin cooking orders in her own kitchen.

“I’ve liked cooking since I was a little girl. I always used to help my mother in the kitchen,” Nermiin says.

Nermiin and Mohamad ran their business from home for two years until they finally found a venue in a local shopping mall. At last, they could open a café of their own, Ali Baba, where Nermiin makes delicious Syrian and Mediterranean food and pastries like brazak, qurabiya, khafeh and baklava.


Annick’s business is cooking with gas
Annick’s business is cooking with gas. © UNHCR/Anthony Karumba

In 2015, Annick fled unrest in Burundi with her husband and three children, finding refuge in Kigali, Rwanda.

Accustomed to financial independence, and with a mind for business, Annick soon began looking for ways to earn a living. With UNHCR’s support, Annick worked with a local consulting group that empowers refugee entrepreneurs. 

Today, Annick runs a small shop selling gas cylinders for heating and cooking, and has five employees.

“They gave me strength and hope to continue,” she says.

Women like Salsabil, Zeynab, Nermiin and Annick show that women and girls around the world can overcome the most challenging circumstances and find a way to thrive.

Support displaced women and girls around the world.

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