Even though the wave of mass immigration has decreased in Europe, many of the refugees who did find safety in the old continent are still struggling to fit in.
Some, though, have found a way to bridge the gap between cultures by way of food.
The Refugee Food Festival — an initiative started by the Food Sweet Good charity with the help of UNHCR — is all about promoting peace and a better perception of refugees in their host countries.
During the festival, local restaurants opened up their kitchens to refugees now working as chefs in France so they could share their cuisine with the country that welcomed them.
This year the event took place in two dozen cities on three different continents, including Lyon.
Euronews met up with four chefs to talk about their new life and the importance of sharing their local food with others.
Taking a trip to the Sahara with Aicha
Aicha Mahamet Seid from Chad has lived in France for 17 years. She holds a degree in law, but her desire to share Saharan cuisine with people made her change professions. She became a full-time chef three years ago.
“I like culture, I like to cook. I feel like people are taking a trip to the Sahara with me,” said Seid.
This year’s Refugee Food Festival found her cooking at Les Muses de l’Opera, at the top of Lyon’s opera house. Here, the dishes are just as important as the view.
“It’s nice to bring people together around the question of immigration in a more positive way, without reverting to the pessimism that so many media present,” said Cécilia Schneider, a comedian from Lyon who shared a Saharan dinner with her friends.
‘When I got pregnant, I only wanted to eat Afghan food’
Sadia Hessabi was an orphan from Afghanistan when she arrived in France at the age of 14. She completed her education and worked in a psychiatric hospital until switching to cooking full time when she turned 40. The experienced chef who cooked in a renowned restaurant in Roanne for the festival said she wanted her children to experience the local flavours of Afghanistan.
“I only made French food in the beginning because I was a bit angry about the state of my country, about all the images I saw coming out of there: war, the situation women are in,” she said. “And from the moment I got pregnant, I got this deep longing to eat Afghan food, to experience the taste, the spices, so that my daughter could eat what I ate in Afghanistan.”
From architect to chef
Samer Fallah from Aleppo, Syria, has been in France for three and a half years. When he took the decision to leave his war-torn country, he chose France because of its culture. Back home he was an architect but cooking was his main hobby, so he made the professional switch when he moved to France.
“Of course I am here because of the war. I tried to stay there, but it does not work, it’s too much. I stayed there for five years and then I decided to leave for another country,” he said.
“This year I am cooking in Les Petit Cantines. I will also do a workshop there.”
Albanian food made with love
Armand Hasanpapa,j from Albania, has lived in France since 2012, with the status of a political refugee. Back home, he was at the beginning of a successful dancing career, which he left to become one of the best in the kitchen. He joined the festival for the third time and was excited to cook with his mother Fatime.
“I think food means sharing. And the festival is uniting us all — different chefs and different countries. And I’m working with my mum! This is the only time in the year I work with her and it’s a moment of pleasure and happiness,” he said.
Seventy million people in total are displaced from their homes, double the number from twenty years ago according to the UNHCR. The UN blames the issue of persistent conflict, wars and persecution.