Thanks to Opening Doors for this story!
All refugees coming through Opening Doors bring with them a history filled with memories of the good, the bad, and even the horrifying times in their lives. If they are with Opening Doors, they are survivors, and survivors do not stand still waiting for good things to happen. They work to make them happen. Kamal Mansoor is one such refugee, and so he came to Opening Doors for a small business loan.
As adults, Kamal and his siblings all worked as jewelers in Baghdad, a business they learned at the feet of their father and grandfather. Kamal also had an ongoing interest in auto sales, thanks to a cousin who would find cars and have Kamal sell them for him. Despite his business successes, decades of political unrest and widespread violence made continuing to stay in Iraq increasingly dangerous. Kamal was forced to flee Iraq in 2005 after finding himself the subject of threats. He travelled to Jordan in hopes of seeking asylum, but was refused admittance. He remained on the border between Jordan and Iraq for three days before trying again for Syria, a country where he would remain for nearly five years.
Kamal’s story is, unfortunately, not a singular one. The U.N. estimates that over 5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, and 1.5 million since 2006 alone, when sectarian violence increased after the bombing of the Samarra Mosque. The bombing killed thousands of Iraqi citizens and spurred a series of attacks on other mosques.
While Kamal dreamed of once again owning his own business, the Syrian government prohibited Iraqi refugees from working. Undaunted, Kamal turned his attentions to the local Iraqi refugee community. For the first two years in Syria, Kamal worked as the financial trust advisor for his religious group, which numbered over 1,200 refugees, and was later selected as their president. Having heard about the U.N.’s refugee resettlement program while still in Baghdad, Kamal immediately applied for refugee status upon arrival in Syria. After years of discussions with U.N. representatives, Kamal was finally approved to relocate in 2010. Although many Iraqi refugees were choosing to resettle in Australia or other Western nations, Kamal chose the United States because of the greater work opportunities available for refugees, a choice which inspired 513 of his community members to follow.
After arriving in the U.S., Opening Doors staff members listened to Kamal’s dream of once again owning a business. With their support, he decided to open his own dealership. He had some savings of his own, yet needed additional financing to purchase the used cars for his lot. Although he applied for a bank loan, he was denied because, as an immigrant, he didn’t have a credit history; so in July 2011, he applied for one of Opening Doors’ Prosperity Project loans. Over two months, Opening Doors staff members Muhamad and Ben discussed with Kamal what it takes to start a business, the expenses he would encounter, interest rates, licensing, leasing a sales lot, and exactly how he would use Opening Doors loan funds. He used the funding from an Opening Doors microloan to purchase his initial auto inventory, and officially opened K.A.S. Auto Sales in September of 2011.
Kamal is enjoying his new life in the United States. He says that he and his family have had an easy time adjusting to living in Sacramento. Kamal appreciates American democracy and the opportunities he has found for work. He thanks Opening Doors for having helped him and other refugees and hopes to encourage other refugees to follow in his footsteps and open their own businesses. However, Kamal’s dreams have not ended with his car dealership. Thoughts of the jewelry business of his childhood have always remained with him. Kamal plans to go back into the jewelry industry. “I will do it!” Kamal confidently asserts; Opening Doors has no doubts that he will.
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