Working in Sweden For Members

Syrian banker applied for 'over 2,000' jobs in Sweden before creating his own

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Syrian banker applied for 'over 2,000' jobs in Sweden before creating his own
Ibrahim Idrees in the original Hummusson hummus bar. Photo: Hummusson

Ibrahim Idrees had 17 years of experience in the finance industry when he moved to Sweden. After applying for over two thousand jobs without getting a single interview, he decided to create his own job, opening Malmö’s first hummus bar, Hummusson.


Idrees, known to his friends as "Ibra", is originally from Latakia on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, although he spent most of his life in the capital, Damascus.

With a background in business and banking, he started his career at Crédit Agricole in Syria, leaving for Doha in Qatar just before the Syrian Civil War started.

“I don’t want to say ‘fortunately, it was perfect timing’, because that makes me feel a bit selfish, but if I hadn’t left at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to leave,” he tells The Local.

“When the war started Syrians became kind of blacklisted. So if I had tried to get a job during the war it would have been impossible.”

After seven more years working in finance in Doha, where immigrants’ residence permits are tied to their jobs, must be renewed every year and can be withdrawn at short notice, he wanted to move somewhere more stable and set his sights on Sweden.

Although Idrees missed Syria, he and his parents – who were living with him in Qatar under his sponsorship – were unable to return, as he had not undertaken military service in the country and his father had been openly critical of the regime.

With his experience in the financial industry, Scandinavia was an obvious choice.

“There are a lot of international companies, English-speaking companies, and FinTech was a big thing in Scandinavia,” he explains. “Especially based on the situation in Syria, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for me to come here, seek a job and seek asylum."

Hummusson hummus bar. Photo: Hummusson

He disliked how much people smoked in Denmark, and felt that Oslo in Norway was “kind of a ghost city”, so chose eventually to settle in Stockholm after falling in love with the city on a trip to the capital.

Idrees had been offered a job at Nordic banking giant Nordea while still living in Doha, which he turned down as he hadn’t properly made up his mind and wasn’t ready to move. He didn’t realise that this was the only offer he was going to get.

He applied for asylum in Sweden and moved to Stockholm in January 2018.


In total, Idrees says he applied for over two thousand jobs in the space of two years.

“I was very naive,” he says. “They look at you as a skilled professional when you apply from abroad, but when you’re here they look at you as an immigrant who’s seeking a job.”

Idrees is not alone. The Finansliv news site recently published an exposé suggesting that unemployment in the finance sector is up to eight times higher among immigrants than Swedes, and the CEO of Stockholm Dual Career Network, Maria Fogelström Kylberg, told The Local's Sweden in Focus podcast that the finance sector is among the most conservative and difficult to break into for immigrants in Sweden.

He signed up for a programme for skilled immigrants at Stockholm Business School, but neither he nor the school were able to find a company willing to take him on for an internship position.

The one company where he got to the interview stage refused to hire him for an internship as he was overqualified.

At the same time, he was starting to tire of Stockholm and decided to move down to Malmö, where some of his relatives were living and he felt the city was more social.

“I’ve never had any difficulties in making friends or being social, but Stockholm proved me wrong,” he laughs.

“Malmö chose me. I didn't choose Malmö. But every time I came here, Malmö was embracing me.”

“Two months after moving to Malmö, I had my birthday party and I had 40 people coming over to my small apartment in St Knut. And everyone was like ‘Ibra, how come? We’ve been living in Malmö our whole lives but we don’t know this many people!”


Swedes have a reputation for being introverted and difficult to get to know, but Idrees disagrees that they’re hard to befriend.

“It’s not difficult to have Swedes as friends. They are shy, and they don’t take the first step, but Swedes are really sweet, and I got to learn how to trust in people again.”

Despite his success socially, the constant job application rejections were taking a toll on his mental health.

“I’ve never felt that inferior in my whole life, I’ve never ever felt that useless... I started to feel really very bad psychologically.”

He started to wonder whether it was his end goal – getting a job – which was the real issue.

“What’s the alternative? To create a job? And how would I create my own job? I’ve only been working in banks, I don’t have the money to open a bank or a consulting firm, I don’t have any connections here to work with. So I started thinking that maybe it’s time to turn the tables around and maybe become the entrepreneur.”


On a trip to Greece, he felt inspired by how passionate the restaurant owners of family-run businesses were about their food.

“I said ‘when I’m retired, I think I want to do this’, and then the idea came to me – why do I need to wait until I’m retired? I can do this now when I’m full of energy.”

He considered opening a bar, but the requirements for an alcohol licence were too high, and he didn’t want to set up a salad bar as the market was already so saturated. Eventually, he decided to start a hummus bar.

Hummusson's hummus bowls with baba ghanoush, beans, fresh pita and falafel. Photo: Hummusson

“The idea for Hummusson came from when I ran out of money. I used to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t come to your birthday because I can’t buy you a gift’,” Idrees explains. “And my friends said ‘Ibra, every time we go to your place and we hang out or have some drinks you make hummus, why don’t you gift me hummus?’”

"I came up with the name of Hummusson because I believe that all the jobs I applied for, I didn't get a single call back because of my name. So I wanted this, my baby, to have a Swedish kind of name, but with a lot of Mediterranean spirit."

"Now people call me Ibra Hummusson, and I feel as if Hummusson is my last name now."


Although Malmö has falafel shops selling falafel wraps on every street corner, Idrees noticed a niche in the market.

“I didn’t see anywhere that offers falafel and hummus in a different way… When I stepped into those falafel places, I felt as if I was in an Arab country, some of the menus are in Arabic. I felt ‘if I was a Swede, would I feel welcomed here’? And I wanted to have a place where Swedes could feel at home. Not because I’m targeting Swedes as a group, but I just want to be part of this city. I want to make everyone feel welcome at this place.”

In his former career in finance, Idrees had lots of experience working on feasibility studies and loan applications for startups. This meant that he’d seen a lot of companies fail, but also that he knew exactly how to prove to the banks that his idea had potential. He applied for a microfinance loan, expecting to wait a couple of months for a decision. After three hours he got a call back – his loan had been approved.

Hummusson's first cafe in the Triangeln shopping centre. Photo: Hummusson

Hummusson opened just three months after Covid hit, and Idrees credits the people of Malmö for supporting the business through the pandemic.

“A lot of people knocked on the door and came in, saying ‘we know that you just opened, we are here to support you’. It’s been four years now, and we are the top rated vegan place in town.”

The original Hummus bar in the Triangeln shopping centre is still open, as well as a newer cafe inside the centre, selling cakes from local vegan bakery Leve and coffee from Malmö coffee roasters Solde.


Now, Idrees has his sights set on further expansion by launching the first paper-packed hummus in Europe.

"I don't own Hummusson, Hummusson owns me," he laughs. 

Idrees has also managed to employ his parents and aunt at Hummusson on work permits. “If I had got a job, there would have been no power on earth to get my parents here,” he said. “They’re 60 plus, how can a 60 plus year old Syrian citizen get a job in Sweden?”

“I’m so happy I never got long term residency in Doha,” he adds. “Because if I did, maybe I would never have thought of moving away. Everything in life happens for a reason.”


Comments (1)

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Abhijit 2023/12/15 12:16
very inspirational life affirming

See Also