Refugees in business at Queen Victoria Market

Shop for mouth-watering Turkish sweets, elegant African clothing and all-natural soaps made as they once were on an olive farm in Lebanon at Queen Victoria Market. 

Refugees and asylum seekers are opening their own businesses at Melbourne’s beloved market, thanks to a partnership between Queen Victoria Market and Thrive Refugee Enterprise. 

Among the new traders is Samar Chami, who sells all-natural soaps and candles through her business, Salma By Nature. Like many Thrive traders, her business echoes the cultural traditions of her birth country. 

A woman selling soaps chats to a customer

Samar chats to a customer

‘In the corner of my grandparent’s olive farm in Lebanon, there was a shed where I would watch my jiddo and teta make soap,’ Samar said. 

‘My teta would help my jiddo mix extracted olive oil with other ingredients before putting the mixture into a big wooden mould. The next day, he would cut the big block into small rectangles and stack them in a pyramid. 

‘When my jiddo passed away, my teta let me make soap with her instead. Now, I’ve brought my trade across the seas, all the way to Queen Victoria Market.’ 

Other new traders include Tahla Gok from Mediterranean Pastry, who sells Turkish sweets like baklava, shortbread, cookies and tulumba.  

Tahla served in the Turkish Army, and later spent time in Mozambique and South Africa, before arriving in Australia under a protection visa in 2018. 

He worked as an Uber driver before meeting his business partner Kadir and acquiring their baked goods business. 

Turkish biscuits covered in nuts, chocolate and coconut

Turkish sweets

Saleh Siraj and Aimen Abu from African Elegance, who are both Eritrean refugees, sell modern African dresses, clothing and accessories for weddings, events and special occasions.  

Before being granted a refugee visa to Australia in 2003, Saleh first sought refuge in a UNHCR camp in Sudan, and later sold African-designed clothes in markets in Israel, harnessing his entrepreneurial spirit.  

Aimen joined Saleh a year ago, bringing with him his own business skills and mindset. 

Research shows that almost 30 per cent of refugees will start a small business by their tenth year in Australia.  

Thrive aims to bring this forward to within the first three years. Partnering with Queen Victoria Market is an important step towards this goal. 

Thrive Executive Chairman Huy Truong said enabling refugees to start businesses reaps significant benefits. 

‘Refugees and asylum seekers make an enormous contribution to Australia’s economy. They bring a level of determination, work ethic and resilience that comes with a need to rebuild one’s life,’ Huy said. 

‘However, it’s not easy when these new arrivals have no social or financial capital to leverage their natural talents. 

‘Queen Victoria Market is helping refugees overcome these disadvantages through the provision of invaluable opportunities like opening stalls at the market. It is these opportunities which are invaluable long-term.’ 

A stallholder offers a customer a Turkish sweet

Tahla at his stall

Queen Victoria Market has a long history of supporting immigrants, with many of the market’s 600-plus small businesses made up of multi-generational families from around the world who have made Melbourne their home. 

To meet more market traders, visit Queen Victoria Market and drop by on market days.