MOHAMMED RAHIMEH left Damascus in December 2015, rather than be conscripted into the Syrian army. His journey to London took him through Lebanon and Greece and included 11 months in the notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais. Despite leaving Syria with no cooking qualifications or English skills, he is now in the process of setting up a food business in Britain. History is replete with immigrants who have 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.
Today’s migrants also have plenty to offer, if only the authorities will let them work. While he was waiting for his asylum claim to be processed in Britain, Mr Rahimeh wasn’t allowed to take a job. With the help of Alexandra Simmons, a volunteer he had met in Calais, he set up Mo’s Eggs, a business that offered a Syrian brunch. He was able to take advantage of a trend for pop-up restaurants, venues that only exist for a day every week or month.
He served around 60 people every month until the venue closed, but will soon open a new place in Tooting Broadway, in the south of the city. In the interim, he has been working at a market stall to learn more about the food trade. A similar path was followed by Majeda Khoury, a human-rights activist who made her way from Damascus to Britain. Now she runs catering at big events for charities that want to focus on Syria.
Paul Hutchings is trying to help those people who are stuck. He used to be a market researcher, before going to Calais to help refugees in 2008. In 2016 he set up Refugee Support, another charity, which has been involved in camps in Bangladesh, Cyprus, Greece and Mexico. It created tokens so residents could buy their own things.
After she made it to America, Ms Nayeri became a writer, publishing two novels and a non-fiction book, “The Ungrateful Refugee”. Dignity also requires that refugees find work. So instead, Mr Hutchings rented a building, now called the Dignity Centre, where people can learn skills. One of the projects is a sewing co-operative which has 18 machines, where refugees make bags, cushion covers and aprons.
The refugees Bartleby spoke to had undergone an immense struggle to reach their current position. Their determination to make something of their lives was truly striking. That is the kind of work ethic any company, and any country, ought to value.
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