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Meet the Congolese Refugee Turned Businessman in Greece

Julien Makalou
Refugee from Congo Builds Successful New Life in Greece. credit: Amna

Julien Makalou, a refugee from Congo, overcame several hardships to build a successful new life in Greece.

Makalou, who was forced to flee from his home by political turmoil and persecution, is now the owner of a business based in Greece and works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as part of an informal advisory group.

Makalou, who is now also a Greek citizen, is a strong proponent of education and graduated from the University of Western Attica.

From refugee to a new life in Greece

Makalou was forced to flee from Congo because of political persecution. His father, who is an architect, was active politically with the opposition, which eventually led to the engagement of the family.

The only objects Makalou left home with were a copy of the New Testament and a cross worn around his neck, both given to him by his tearful mother before he embarked on the dangerous journey away from the Congo.

He first fled to Turkey by plane, where a human trafficker abandoned him near Evros, a regional unit of Greece on the border with Turkey. From here, together with other refugees and migrants, Makalou attempted to cross the Evros River which makes the land boundary between Greece and Turkey.

Others drowned during attempts to cross the river but Makalou made it across in November 2011, aged just 16.

“My story is the result of many efforts, sacrifice, and patience. It is a drop of water in the ocean of difficulties faced by the refugees”, he said, reflecting on his journey.

Early years in Greece

“My determination to survive led me to the Orestiada in the hope of continuing my struggle to change my tear-filled past into a future full of hope,” Makalou said.

Although he had made it to Europe, Makalou’s initial time spent in Greece was not straightforward or easy. He spent six months in a cell in Orestiada before he was finally able to leave and relocated to Athens.

He remained homeless in Athens and was forced to sleep on beaches until he was granted accommodation in a hostel for unaccompanied minors in Konitsa.

Once settled in Konitsa, Makalou was in a better position to pursue an education. He studied the Greek language for roughly ten hours each day, and mostly learned through reading and with the assistance of a language teacher who was willing to help him.


Makalou studied for three years at Konista’s vocational high school where he excelled in his studies.

Later, he pursued further education at the University of Western Attica, where he passed with a first from the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department.

Makalou was a keen student and reflected that “neither the bars of the prison nor the benches of America’s Square stopped me from wanting to go back to the desks”.

During a period of academic study in Athens, the Archdiocese of Athens provided him with accommodation. He was also granted scholarships from the IKY and a private company.

Business Ventures and refugee work with the UN

The Congolese refugee who had eventually found himself in Greece worked hard in call centers to save up enough money to eventually start his own business.

“I wanted to do something that would give me bread to eat. In 2012 I was sleeping on the street and at every step, I think about not staying on the street again,” he said.

Makalou’s business provides transport of packages from Greece to the whole world, as well as international money transfers and the import of organic food from Africa.

He describes his business as being “a bridge between Greece and the rest of Europe, between Greece and Africa”.

Makalou also works with the UNHCR, together with other refugees in Greece, to help solve integration issues. He has traveled to Brussels with the Hellenic Council where he addressed the European Parliament on the difficulties faced by unaccompanied minors forced to flee from their homes.

During a recent UNHCR event, he addressed those in attendance, saying “You can work with refugees and thus help the whole society. All refugees are looking for opportunities to rebuild their lives. I invite you to write together a new page of the history of refugees in Greece”.

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