Migration Talks #2: Entrepreneurs Amongst Us

Apr 19 2017
I was invited to speak on behalf of the EESC at the Uphold Europe event “Entrepreneurs Amongst Us” with its focus on migration. This followed my participation in the “Are You Up for Europe” debate, held at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organised by the European Commission's traineeship sub-committee Think Young Think Europe in February 2017. AS migration has been a priority for the EESC this was a great opportunity to share our insight following the country visits made by Committee members in 2015-2016.


The Uphold Europe event was the second in a series of Migration Talks, open to curated audience of European Institutions, non-profit sector and academia, where uniquely positioned individuals present their stories about migration and engage with the audience to foster critical dialogue and debate with the aim of increasing awareness about the challenges faced by the EU today and of shaping the policy direction of Uphold Europe.

I focussed on speaking about the opportunities migrants have brought to all economies and how diversity is an asset not a liability. Focussing on entrepreneurship as a tool to bring employment, wealth creation and innovation I was also able to share the value of migrants, including migrant women to the economy and social development in the countries they were settling in. Having been to the refugee centres in Slovenia , I also highlighted the EESC findings from the country visits and shared some of the challenges for policy makers. However, I reiterated that civil society and individuals had a moral responsibility and we could not leave this issue to the politicians, or worse, pay other countries to deal with the problems alone.

All the speakers provided a new perspective on the challenges faced by migrants in Europe and the difficulties of becoming a successful entrepreneurs:

Erika Kaneza is a migrant from Burundi who has establishing herself in Brussels after arriving as a refugee. She shared the horrors she witnessed in her country and the support she received on her arrival into Belgium, but admits that the journey to mental stability has been very long and that is why she has established her own company to help others. Erika is a coach, conflict mediator and founder at Dare Authenticity Brussels, a start-up that works on empowering individuals through neuro-linguistic sessions.

Obada Otabashi - is an inspirational young refugee from Syria. He shared his challenges of “swimming” to Europe, having twice been in boats which sunk. Odaba invested over Eur 10,000 to make the journey to Europe and explained how he could have used that same fund to establish his business and help others if the process to access visas was made easier. Odaba is a Director of the We Exist organisation in Brussels, which he also co-founded. We Exist is aimed at providing new ways of integrating refugees and asylum seekers into the local labour market.

Barbara and Ahmed - Had two different stories of how they now supported themselves and other refugees. Barbara Australian now living in Belgium had taken in many refugees into her own home after converting her cellar to accommodate 5 refugees to give them a safe and comfortable place when arriving in Belgium. She had created a network of homes who also provided support and accommodation.  Through this experience she had met Ahmed who was an Iraqi refugee. Ahmed's experiences of fleeing his country are still raw and he shared only his current time in Brussels and how through the Our House project he was able to support others because of his understanding of their needs.  Both are now Director and Refugee Representative from the Our House Project a non-profit organisation working on effective refugee integration through initiatives such as catering services.

The 2 catering services, Our House Project and We Exist highlight the growing sector for catering services in Europe and I was able to share my experience of setting up my food company when i first started in business. Catering brings opportunities for job creation as well as social integration and cultural learning. I will be attending one of the We Exist dinners and will also try and find time to help mentor and share my food business knowledge.


Aya Altun - was out of the country during the recent attempted Coup in Turkey, he cannot now return to his country as he is a journalist challenging the politics in Turkey.  Aya is today living in Belgium.  where he plans to develop a Brussels office of his former newspaper which was shut down in Turkey amidst s political clampdown. Aya really made me consider that sometimes we leave home, expecting to return due to the freedoms of our lives, but sometimes that freedom is taken away overnight through conditions out of our control.  This was again endorsed when a young woman approached me who is in the same situation as Aya, she too cannot now return home, her parents are in Turkey but they currently live in fear and are looking to flee at the earliest opportunity.

There were many questions from the floor as the room was completely full and it was obvious the discussion could have gone on for a much longer time. The questions were based mainly around sharing stories, access to funding and support, cultural diversity and understanding, and next steps for migrants.

The next event of Uphold will be in the European Parliament and I have offered the facilities of the EESC for a future event for the continued debate as I believe the EESC has a great deal of knowledge to share on this issue.

‘Freedom should never be taken for granted’ is the learning I took away from the very inspiring and moving event

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1814683788783885/


Uphold Europe is a migration management focused pressure group. Based in Brussels, the focus of our work is policy development through public engagement and engaging the private sector into migration debate. Our aim is to convince our our policy makers and political leaders to uphold the Schengen system, strengthen our common external border, revamp the European asylum system and utilize this historical opportunity to propel our economy. You can find more information about us on our website www.upholdeurope.com and on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/upholdeurope/ 

Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information madi@madisharma.org.



Madi  x



Copies:      President EESC

                  Employers Group President

                  Employers Group Secretariat

                  SOC Section  President

                  SOC Secretariat




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