They are disregarded, stigmatised and made to feel like unwanted second-class citizens in a country that once seemed hopeful. Rarely praised and barley acknowledged. Why are those who contribute so much often neglected?
Travelling to a new country in search of opportunities that are unavailable in the lands that they were born. Migrants have to be brave. Leaving behind family, friends, comforts and norms, for many, the journey is an isolating experience.
Once in the United Kingdom, hopes of creating a better life are shadowed by language barriers, culture shocks, unrecognised qualifications, and the disturbing reality of a United Kingdom that had previously appeared to be overflowing with possibilities. Many are condemned, vilified, and left emotionally drained with feelings of being unwanted. But what about the small, invisible group fighting against barriers?
Beating the odds and creating opportunities on the island that rejects them. Resilience and courage push these people to generate income, improve the economy, and create jobs for locals.
The Prisma asked Rafael Dos Santos, the Brazilian-born author and creator of mi-HUB – London’s first co-working space for diverse businesses – why migrant entrepreneurs are rarely spoken about? “Because the media likes sensationalism. It is easier to stigmatise than to talk about those who are contributing. They want to sell papers”, he says.
For Rafael, life in Brazil was hard. Although he held a prestigious job working as a software support analyst for Microsoft, in 2001 at the age of 21, he decided to leave his birthlands because of its intolerance of his sexuality.
“I was bullied for being gay, and into adulthood people continued to call me names on the streets”, he explains.
Like many migrants, cities as diverse as London offer what Rafael calls, “freedom”. For him, the city holds hope as a place where people can be themselves. He affirms, “I have never really felt discriminated against here”.
“Only once, when I was holding hands with a boyfriend in Embankment, did a person drive by and call us names”. What did they call you? We ask. “f****ts”, replies Rafael. He then states, “we laughed, but it made me angry. I have not been in a situation like that again. In London, people usually keep their opinions to themselves”.
Struggles faced in London
In his TEDx Talk, “What it takes to be a migrant entrepreneur”, Rafael explains that like many migrants, after he arrived in the UK, his Brazilian qualifications were no longer valid. So, in order to pay his bills, he worked as a kitchen porter, cleaner and glass collector.
“I was a 21-years-old, and had already worked for one of the biggest companies in the world. But I could not speak good English, so could not deliver in a job. I was humiliated and felt inferior. I was at the bottom of the pyramid wondering if I could get up”, he says.
He tells The Prisma that once he learnt English, he “felt more independent”. He was “able to understand what was going on”, and “it built his confidence”.
He was “no longer the quiet person in the corner”. Learning the language “brought [his] life back”. “Before, I was like a child in an adult’s body who had to be taught things”, he claims.
Rafael wrote his book, “Moving abroad – one step at a time”, with aims to “help people understand the emotional challenges of moving abroad”. He reveals, “there is a detachment from your family, and no one is here to help you. Then there is a process of self-discovery in living by yourself – which can make you stronger”.
Becoming an entrepreneur is difficult for people who were born in Britain. But for migrants, the process is even more challenging. For those new to the country, there are issues with a lack of funding, no credit history, and a lack of network circles to sell products to.
We asked Rafael what problems he faced when creating his business? “For me, there was a lack of funding. I had to borrow money from my ex-boyfriend”, he explains. Adding, “we cannot transfer our credit history from one country to another”.
mi-HUB not only provides office space, it also offers support to migrant entrepreneurs. For Rafael, “there is a lack of knowledge”. “A lot of people new to the country have no idea of how to sort their accounts as a company director. If we get there early enough, we teach them how to from the beginning”, he affirms.
“Anyone who has ever lived abroad knows how difficult it is. When you launch a business as a migrant, it can be isolating. So, it was my idea to put migrant entrepreneurs together so that we can help each other out”, he says.
We asked if starting a business has helped his integration into British society? “Yes”, he replies. Continuing, “with business, the more you grow, the more contacts you make. I am a part of networks and have met lots of British entrepreneurs who have become friends”.
In the time leading up to Brexit, migrants were heavily denounced in the media. How do you feel being referred to as a “migrant”? For Rafael, “the way that the word migrant is used today, is wrong. It is similar to how the word ‘gay’ was used in the 80s. Nobody wanted to be called gay because it was associated with aids and promiscuity”.
Rafael believes that “when people speak about migrants in Britain today, there is no distinction between refugees and migrants. The way the media portrays us is wrong. People do not want to be associated with what is wrong”.
“Since Brexit, one of my investors pulled out. He no longer thought my business would grow”, continues Rafael. Do you still feel welcome here? We asked. “Yes, I feel welcomed in this country”.
“I also have a special relationship with Brazil – it is in my DNA. But I do not feel at home when I go to Brazil. The people here are accepting, and the economy is great. There are opportunities, and you can do whatever you want – as long as you pay your taxes”, he adds.
(Photos: Pixabay and Rafael Dos Santos)