Six new start-ups celebrated by refugee integration project

Sarah Ahmadi, AMIF Project Lead

A unique project designed to harness the skills of refugees is celebrating six new business start-ups among its success stories.

The AMIF project, run by the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) and respected activist Sarah Ahmadi, aims to integrate refugees into their local community and labour market – making the most of their valuable skills and talents.

The project is designed to support migrants to fulfil their potential when they arrive on UK soil after escaping conflict in search of safety and a better quality of life. It draws on Sarah’s own experience as an asylum seeker forced to abandon a high-profile career in TV when she fled war-torn Afghanistan.

Sarah said: “I am just one example of the many refugees who hold high level qualifications in their home countries in fields such as medicine, law, entrepreneurship and management. Unfortunately, on arrival to the UK most will end up in menial labour work due to the language barrier.

“But they are keen to improve their English language and knowledge and want to better understand British culture and values. They have the potential to make a real contribution to the UK economy and this project is designed to help them to do that.

“We help find out exactly who they are, what skills and ambitions they have and what gaps need to be filled.”

Running across Tyne and Wear, the popular programme aimed to reach 240 people in its three years but has already supported 223 people. It is estimated up to 350 people will have been supported by the end of the project next year, with learners coming from countries including Syria, Iran, Libya, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria and the Sudan.

Ernest Dodds, Social Enterprise Adviser and Sarah Ahmadi

The BIC’s social enterprise experts work closely with AMIF students to explore their entrepreneurial ambitions and have so far celebrated the launch of six new businesses.

One of the first was set up by South Shields-based beauty therapist Fatemeh Pormon Tajani, who owned and managed a hairdressing salon in Iran before coming to the UK. Thanks to the AMIF project, Fatemeh’s qualifications have now been updated and she has been supported to create a business plan which was used for start-up funding.

Other businesses created are: a mobile phone repair shop in Darlington, a videographer/photographer in Gateshead, a clothing manufacturer in Hebburn, a clothing alterations company in Jarrow and a Community Interest Company offering workshops for artists in Newcastle.

Ernest Dodds, Social Enterprise Adviser at the BIC, said: “AMIF is such a worthwhile project and I am really proud of what we have achieved so far. The feedback has been immensely positive and it’s so refreshing to see the progress of the learners’ language skills, their levels of interaction, confidence and business ideas.

“This project has brought bright new opportunities to the life of these people. Most of our learners were very isolated, unemployed and on benefits when they came to us. The project has brought them together to experience the joy of learning, to help with community cohesion and integration and also improve the quality of their lives.”

The project, which is named after its funder, the EU Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund, has continued to gain momentum despite challenges posed by the pandemic – adapting teaching and assessment techniques to remain effective.

The structured course includes:

  • ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), which focuses on English reading, writing, speaking, and listening
  • Local Living, Local Life, which focuses on local issues, British values and gaining successful employment
  • Development of viable business ideas, understanding finance and funding, and writing a business plan to enable entrepreneurs to become self-employed
  • Personal development to support their ongoing success
  • Benefit advice to support explaining ‘in work’ benefits and moving into employment and self-employment

To find out more about the project contact Kevin Marquis on or Sarah Ahmadi on

This project is part funded by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. Making management of migration flows more efficient across the European Union.

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