Refugees share their culinary heritage at UNHCR cooking festival in Athens

Refugees share their culinary heritage at UNHCR cooking festival in Athens

Chef Khane Habdulla, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, shared her recipes at Dopios restaurant in Athens as part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) initiative to give refugees opportunities to share their cuisines with the Greek community.

The Cooking with Refugees Festival, now in its fifth year, began with a bang on Monday and continues through June 20. Refugee chefs and cooks from Iran, Guinea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria are working alongside Greek chefs in Athenian restaurants to offer the public a fusion of flavors and cultures.

“The festival offers a chance to share stories and provide help through a means that brings us closer together with ease – food,” explained Eva Savvopoulou from the UNHCR Communications Public Information Unit. The Cooking with Refugees Festival is taking place this week around World Refugee Day, June 20, “aiming to show what people can achieve when they have opportunities,” she added.

The purpose is to raise awareness and create networks that can even lead to employment opportunities. For some refugees, this is their first experience in a professional kitchen, empowering them to seek jobs in the sector or pursue professional training, Savvopoulou highlighted.

‘The festival offers a chance to share stories and provide help through a means that brings us closer together with ease – food’

Before participating in the festival, Habdulla completed a vocational cooking training course with Greek NGO Odyssea, through which she was recommended to the event. She emigrated to Greece five years ago with her family and is learning Greek. Habdulla wishes to learn the secrets of Greek cuisine but most of all to convey a message of love.

“She is a good cook,” renowned Cypriot chef Christos Peskias told Kathimerini English Edition.

On Monday, Habdulla collaborated with chefs Peskias and Rita Kavvatha to prepare two dishes inspired by Kurdish cuisine. The traditional kubbeh dish, similar to the Cypriot dish koupes, was made with beef instead of pork, and rice instead of groats, a culinary difference Peskias noticed when cooking with Habdulla.

“The filling reminded me completely of how it tastes in Cyprus,” Peskias said about the similarity of the dish to his own Cypriot culture.

Βlessing Ibeakam (l) and Gogo Delogianni will be joining forces at the Galiantra canteen on Thursday. [UNHCR/Socrates Baltagiannis]

A language barrier exists for refugees entering Greece if they do not speak Greek or English, which can impede their ability to communicate. Savvopoulou explained that after the first encounter, where the UNHCR helps with communication, “no interpretation is needed because once they enter the kitchen, they speak their own language.”

This event promotes inclusivity and the embrace of refugee cultures within the Greek community. Peskias believes that when people emigrate to Greece, locals passively expect their assimilation into Greek culture.

“It requires more effort from all of us,” Peskias said, to create a welcoming environment for refugees to feel included and share their cultures from back home.

On Thursday, the UNHCR will merge forces with the Refugee Week cultural festival for the “Our Home, Our Neighborhood” picnic event, featuring a culinary and musical celebration at KAPAPS Park (77 Trifillias) in downtown Ambelokipi. To view the full program, visit

Irene Anastasiadis is a summer intern at Kathimerini English Edition and a master’s student at Boston University.


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