UNHCR and the NGO Food Sweet Food announced today that the Refugee Food Festival, a civil society led initiative born last year to showcase refugees’ cooking talents and facilitate their integration, is expanding to thirteen major European cities in 2017.
The 2017 edition of the Refugee Food Festival will take place in Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Athens, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, Milan, Bari, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and Lille as part of World Refugee Day celebrations. Between 15 and 30 June, more than 50 restaurants will open their kitchens to refugee chefs from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Ukraine to name a few. Other cities have expressed their interest and might follow.
The French-born initiative started last year through a partnership between the NGO Food Sweet Food and UNHCR, with the support of partners, citizens, local authorities, restaurants and private businesses.
The first edition took place in Paris in June 2016. Over 1,000 people enjoyed the food prepared by refugee chefs from India, Iran, Ivory Coast, Russia, Sri Lanka and Syria in eleven restaurants, which opened their kitchens and changed their menus for the occasion.
“The Refugee Food Festival has been a resounding success, with people calling from all over the world wanting to replicate it,” said Marine Mandrila, one of the initiative’s founders.
“Its expansion to several European cities stems from the desire of many citizens across Europe to engage with and welcome refugees in their own country. Refugees will have the opportunity to showcase their skills and promote their food traditions and ordinary people will discover a new culture through its cuisine,” she added.
“The Refugee Food Festival is a wonderful project that brings citizens and refugees together around a positive cultural experience, namely the simple joy of preparing a nice meal and enjoying some good food,” said Vincent Cochetel, Director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau. “It also helps to generate awareness about refugees and creates opportunities for refugee chefs, promoting their talents and integration,” he added.
“The Festival has helped me make friends,” confirmed Emad, a Syrian chef who cooked during the first Refugee Food Festival. “It was especially important for me, as I was discovering a new culture, a new country and a new language. The food makes you smile and learn more. When I cook, I feel it helps me find myself,” he said.
The event has been an accelerator for refugees’ culinary careers in France by showcasing their cooking skills, resulting in professional opportunities for all participating refugee chefs.