A taste of home for Syrians refugees in Portugal
Portugal / Freedom for Equality / 19 sep 2017
Breaking bread around the table has always been a symbol of shared humanity. For one Syrian family in Portugal, it is even more than that: food has been a lifeline to them in their new community. Fatima and her four children were already living in a refugee camp when they decided to leave Syria in 2012, after Fatima’s husband was killed – along with 149 others – when he went to check that his house was safe. They fled first to Egypt, surviving on charitable donations and food vouchers for nine months. When the UN Refugee Agency found that they were eligible for resettlement, they moved to Portugal.
They were met at the airport by representatives of the Jesuit Refugee Service, a Catholic organisation that helps with refugee integration. After 11 months of financial support, Fatima found herself with seven mouths to feed and money running low. But a call from a new scheme, Pâo a Pâo (Bread, Bread) changed everything. The project aimed to help Syrian refugees showcase their food at private dinners; more than 100 people showed up to each one. Now, the founders of the project are opening a permanent restaurant in Lisbon’s Santa Clara market. Mezze employs 15 refugees, and between meals offers workshops and cultural exchange.
The restaurant will provide financial stability for Fatima and her family; but more importantly, it will provide a sense of belonging. ‘We found that the Portuguese really like our cooking, because it is full of flavours and spices’, says Fatima. ‘It is the way we communicate now. We carry on cooking and they are learning.’