Barriers Faced by Refugee Entrepreneurs in Glasgow

  • Chanel Bikorimana

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study investigates barriers to enterprise faced by refugee entrepreneurs in Scotland.

Entrepreneurship has been perceived as a driver of economic development and a source of employment creation in both developed and developing countries. Since 2001, Glasgow became the first local authority in Scotland to provide accommodation to asylum seekers and refugees. Refugees are individuals who left their country of origin because of war, conflict and often face a fear of persecution. Refugees who have received an international protection cannot return safely back home because their lives are in danger because they are not protected by their own Government (Crawley et al., 2016; Martin et al, 2018). In the context of the UK, the refugee employment rate is very low compared to other migrant workers because they experience structural barriers (Vargas-silva et al., 2020) which prevent them from earning an income and further prosperity. In terms of the motivation to establish their own new ventures, many refugees are attracted by both “pull and push” factors.

Literature. The critical literature review suggested that refugee entrepreneurs are different from other ethnic and immigrant entrepreneurs (Wauters and Lambrecht 2008; Lyon et al., 2007). Existing evidence revealed that refugee entrepreneurs have their own distinctive characteristics such as the need for seeking political protection (Embiricos, 2020), fleeing war and conflict (Crawley &Skleparis, 2018), lacking access to finance, having poor social networks, facing immigration constraints (Lyon et al., 2007), and often they are underemployed because of labour market discrimination (Ram et al., 2008). Most refugee entrepreneurs experience acute problems to establish their own new ventures. The main barriers identified in the literature are linked with lack of access to finance, access to market, deficient management skills, poor social networks, lack of business support, problems related to breakout and immigration status constraints. For many refugee entrepreneurs, their success depends on the availability to obtain funding in a host country, a situation which is difficult because of poor connections with wider ethnic resources (Martín-Montaner et al. 2018; Volery 2007).

Methodology. This study was conducted as a qualitative research approach by using semi-structured face to face interviews with 20 refugee entrepreneurs and 7 mainstream organisations in Glasgow. Purposive sampling and snowball sampling were used to create the sample of respondents. Triangulation was used to strengthen and increase the credibility and validity of research findings.

Findings/Discussions The findings of this study revealed that refugee entrepreneurs were motivated by both push and pull factors. The interviews revealed that refugee entrepreneurs experienced acute barriers to access to finance, a situation which is shared by all entrepreneurs. Beside such financial barriers, this study suggested that refugee entrepreneurs faced additional barriers such as a lack of access to market, lack of management skills, poor social networks, discrimination, lack of access to business support and face also a problem to breakout into more predominant markets, although some refugee entrepreneurs have successfully achieved penetration into mainstream markets.

The findings of this study revealed that, refugee entrepreneurs are resilient, innovative, and resourceful and use their ingenuity in the case of scarcity of resources to overcome their own difficulties.

Study contributions. Currently, there is no single theory which explains the situation facing refugee entrepreneurs. There are theories which have been established to investigate ethnic and migrant entrepreneurs, but these existing theories are not appropriate to study refugee entrepreneurs because refugees have their own characteristics which differ from other ethnic and immigrant entrepreneurs. Over the past two decades, most scholars have used mixed embeddedness theory to study immigrant entrepreneurs. However, on close examination, mixed embeddedness does not fit well to investigate refugee entrepreneurs. This study proposes to expand the use of mixed embeddedness to encumbrance the specific circumstances faced by refugee entrepreneurs namely: refugees cannot go back home, they need to seek international protection, they have a limited social network, and they struggle to access finance and other resources. This study offers theoretical, practice and policy contributions. The enveloped theory is constructed by combining different aspects of mixed embeddedness, jugaad, motivation and integration theories, providing a theoretical framework which can be utilised to investigate the specific circumstances faced by refugee entrepreneurs.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorDarinka Asenova (Supervisor) & Geoffrey Whittam (Supervisor)

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