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Refugees bring taste of home to Portugal

Editor: zhenglimin 丨Xinhua

02-18-2017 10:41 BJT

LISBON, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Twice a month, on Sundays, a group of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea take over a kitchen in Lisbon's Alfama district to give locals a taste of middle-eastern food.

They are part of a program at Lisbon's Cozinha Popular da Mouraria (Popular Kitchen of Mouraria), an association set up by former journalist Adriana Freire around four years ago.

Under the motto "Make Food Not War," the program is aimed at bridging cultural divides and helping them feel more at home.

"I like everything about this project," says Nizar Almadani, from Damascus, Syria, as he cooks a Syrian chicken dish and bakes flatbread."I have good friends here."

Almadani, who was a chef in Damascus and also owned a travel agency, arrived to Portugal eight months ago, after travelling to Turkey and then Greece.

While he likes Portugal and being part of this project, Almadani says he needs to find full-time work and is still waiting to get documents from the authorities. He hasn't seen his wife and two sons, in Lebanon, for two years, and would also like to see her resettled here.

His journey has not been easy, but this could be a good opportunity for him to start from scratch.

The man behind the idea of the project, "Make Food Not War," Alexandre Mascarenhas, explains that it is a way for the refugees to integrate in the community and make connections.

"Our aim is to get people integrated and to experience Portuguese hospitality. I found the phrase (Make Food Not War) on the internet and I thought it had so much to do with this project, with what is happening in countries like Syria," Mascarenhas says.

"The revenue of these events goes to them, but it is important they eventually get a full-time job, and as they get new jobs we get more new people (refugees), and that way the cycle doesn't stop," he adds, as he kneads bread in the kitchen.

"Before the project I didn't know many people," says Awet Mauratu, 35, from Eritrea, who is also kneading bread. He arrived in Lisbon 11 months ago and used to work in the mining industry. "Now I know many people and we are like a family."

Portugal has showed an open attitude towards refugees, with the country offering to resettle up to 10,000 people.

However the number of refugees arriving here has been quite low. Portugal has until today received around 957 refugees under the EU relocation plan, according to recent figures released by the European Commission.

While refugees here face problems in terms of excessive bureaucracy to get residency documents, the Portuguese authorities including the President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, have insisted that Portugal is welcoming refugees with open arms.

Last week Rebelo de Sousa visited the Cozinha Popular da Mouraria to see the Make Food Not War project with his own eyes, and had lunch there and complimented the chefs.

"He was very nice. I liked him," says Almadani. "He is a very good guy, a good president."

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