MOHAMMED RAHIMEH left Damascus in December 2015 instead of being recruited by the Syrian army. His journey to London took him through Lebanon and Greece and included 11 months at the notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais. Despite leaving Syria unqualified in cooking or English, he is now in the process of establishing a food business in Britain. History is full of immigrants who brought economic skills with them, from the Flemish weavers who came to England in the 14th century to the millions of Europeans who emigrated to America in the late 19th century. Today's migrants also have much to offer. , if only the authorities allow them to work.
While waiting for his asylum application to be processed in Britain, Rahimeh was not allowed to take a job. But he developed his culinary skills by focusing on a recipe involving eggs, onions, tomatoes and spices. With the help of Alexandra Simmons, a volunteer he met in Calais, he set up Mo's Eggs, a brunch company in Syria. He has been able to take advantage of a trend toward pop-up restaurants, places that only exist for one day each week or month.
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The first site was a pizza parlor in Archway, north London, and its first event was Simmons' 30th birthday party. It has served about 60 people every month until the venue closes, but will soon open a new location on Tooting Broadway in the south of the city. Meanwhile, he works at a market stall to learn more about the food trade.
This is what immigrants tend to do; They work hard to rebuild their lives and locate niches in the market that others may lose. A similar path was followed by Majeda Khoury, a human rights activist who traveled from Damascus to Great Britain. She has learned to cook from a charity called Migrateful and prepares food associated with different cities in Syria; the apricot dish, harak osbao, features lentils and pasta with tamarind, coriander, garlic and pomegranate molasses. She now runs catering at major events for charities wishing to focus on Syria.
Khoury and Rahimeh benefited from sales and marketing training from the Business Refugee Network (TERN), a charity. TERN co-founder Charlie Fraser says the goal is to launch 1,000 refugee-led companies in Britain by 2025.
It is difficult for refugees to start a business when they cannot leave the camps in the first place. Paul Hutchings is trying to help people who are in prison. He was a market researcher before going to Calais to help refugees in 2008. In 2016, he created Refugee Support, another charity involved in camps in Bangladesh, Cyprus, Greece and Mexico.
The model is to promote dignity and not dependence; Instead of just distributing food and clothing, the charity set up a shop. He created tokens so residents could buy their own things. Dina Nayeri, a former refugee, says this is very important; At a camp she attended, people had to look for piles of old clothes that were thrown to the ground. Nayeri says many refugees struggle with trauma, feelings of shame and inferiority and other people's expectations that they should always be grateful. After arriving in America, Nayeri became a writer, publishing two novels and a nonfiction book, "The Ungrateful Refugee."
Dignity also requires refugees to find work. If they stay in the camps, they qualify for EU subsidies, but the risk, says Hutchings, is that they will institutionalize. At first, Refugee Support tried to provide microloans to allow people to set up small businesses. But that came across a regulatory wall.
So instead, Hutchings rented a building, now called the Dignity Center, where people can learn skills. One project is an 18-machine sewing cooperative where refugees make bags, pillow covers and aprons. The charity supplies the material, machinery and electricity and sells the products online at Refumade.org; Each item comes with a message about the person who created it. The sewing workers are mainly women. For men, the charity has set up a bicycle sharing scheme in Cyprus to help them find work outside the camps.
The refugees Bartleby spoke to had struggled to reach their present position. Their determination to make something of their lives was truly impressive. This is the kind of work ethic that any company and country should value.