Welcoming Migrants to Europe through Food Can Ireland Lead the Way?


As Europe faces one of the defining challenges of our generation we take a look at ways citizens around Europe are taking action to welcome migrants through food. While Ireland’s Darina Allen, recently declared that the ‘cooking ban’ in direct provision facilities for refugees around the country made her ‘ashamed to be Irish’ we take a look at some positive stories which have been unfolding around the country over the last few months while launching a new Welcome Dinners campaign that will see Irish people welcoming recent migrants to Ireland through food.

Filling Stomachs to Open Minds in Europe


Ebba Akerman set a table on her backyard for a meal that brought Swedes and immigrants together. Credit Casper Hedberg for The New York Times

When Ebba Akerman, was teaching Swedish to immigrants in the suburbs of Stockholm, she ran into one of her students on the train and asked him whether he enjoyed living in her country. She found the answer deeply disturbing. The man shrugged, saying his life here was not much different from the one he had left behind in Afghanistan. It became clear to her that most of her students, living in neighbourhoods packed with immigrants, had virtually no contact with native Swedes.

We let people into our country, but not into our society. I finally decided that I had to do something. I could be the connector – Ms. Akerman.

Ebba went on to setup United Invitations in Sweden in 2014. The initiative matches new migrants to Sweden with people who have signed up to host Welcome Dinners in their homes. After some initial hesitation from the people of Sweden the idea exploded after a brief appearance by Ebba on national television. United Invitations are now hosting ‘Welcome Dinners‘ across 10 different countries in Europe with over 18,000 people having taken part.

Similar such challenges of meaningful integration face recent refugee’s arriving in Germany. Germany has taken in over 1 million refugees over the last two years, more than any other European country. While the state’s attempts at integration are under severe pressure due to the sheer number of refugees and rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, citizens around the country are leading the way with inspiring initiatives to welcome new migrants to the country through food.
Young people who setup Give Something Back to Berlin conceived an initiative that is to this day helping displaced newcomers enter society, through our shared need to eat. The Refugee Cooking Group was created by British tour guide Lorna Cannon, who saw a need to create and nurture community in a highly charged environment of political and social unrest. Three years later, it’s still running, and the formula remains simple: the group provides ingredients and equipment to a growing and ever-more familiar group of refugees, immigrants, and locals, all of whom prepare a feast of recipes from their home country for those in attendance.


Hungarian-born journalist, Anna Gyulai Gaal hosts welcome dinner parties for refugeees in the Neukölln district of Berlin.

A similar project in Berlin is being run by Anna Gyulai Gaal, a Hungarian-born journalist who turns her apartment in the Neukölln district of Berlin into a supper club through the dining service WithLocals.com, and calls the get-togethers Refugee Dinners. The cooks are Syrian refugees, women who have just arrived in Berlin after making the arduous trek across the Mediterranean and through Europe. Because of their refugee status, the cooks are not allowed to work and earn money, so Ms. Gyulai Gaal gives them the money she earns from the dinners.

All of the genuine integration efforts happen on a communal level. It’s so easily done over food, because this is one thing we all need to do….eat. – Ms.Gyulai Gaal

One of the biggest challenges with initiatives like those mentioned above has been the ability to efficiently match migrants with hosts. A group of German tech entrepreneurs took on the challenge head on last year and created an App called Refoodgee which matches hosts and migrants up based on food preferences and language.

The first contact you build up as a refugee is very important, so we wanted to give both parties the chance to connect over something social, such as a meal. The meeting is not about the food so much, but about getting to know each other, good conversations, etc.- Felicia Hommel (Founder of Refoodgee)

Worried by the rising xenophobic narrative in France over the last few months, 9 restaurants in Paris came together to host a Refugee Food Festival earlier this year. Refugee chefs who had come to France from all over the world were invited to take over their restaurants for the duration of the festival in an open celebration of food diversity and the value and skills that new refugees bring to France.

“In a country where the growing narrative is that refugees live off the state and are a burden on the society, the project offers a small but striking counter narrative, showing that refugees can bring skills, are more than willing to work and will do so much to enrich our culture” said Festival Organiser Sébastien Prunier.


Moaaoya Hamoud, a cook at Le Petit Bain and a Syrian refugee. Credit Corentin Fohlen for The New York Times

Integration, Food and Direct Provision

Closer to home, recent stories outlining the horrendous impact on woman in Direct Provision Centres being banned from cooking for their families saw an out pouring of anger and upset across the country. Chef Darina Allen described said that the situation made her feel “ashamed to be Irish”. Ireland can and must do better. In April of this year, two inspiring women took it upon themselves to do just that. Michelle Darmody of Dublin’s Cake Cafe, and Malawian activist Ellie Kyesombe hosted a unique pop-up restaurant named Our Table for Direct Provision members in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. The food at the restaurant was cooked by participants currently or previously in Direct Provision, who devised a lunch menu that celebrates their diverse food traditions.

People in Direct Provision are very lost. Our Table was a chance for those stuck in the system to come out and mingle while giving Irish people a chance to get to know people who are coming to Ireland – asylum seekers and refugees – and to know why they leave their precious home – says Annet Mphahlele.

Welcome Dinners Campaign – Can Ireland Lead the Way?


Families take part in the united invitations ‘Welcome Dinner’ initiative in Sweden
This week at ChangeX we launched a “Welcome Dinners” campaign in Ireland together with Ulla Hollkenum from United Invitations. The campaign will see Irish people across the country hosting ‘Welcome Dinners in their homes for new migrants to Ireland. The response in the first few days has already being enormous, exceeding all of our expectations.

The response to date has already been amazing with over 200 people signing up to take part in the first few days alone. The campaign already looks set to be one of the biggest initiatives launched by ChangeX – ChangeX founder Paul O’Hara

While many of the people signing up to date are Irish people wanting to create a welcoming atmosphere for new migrants to Ireland there has also been huge interest from immigrants who came to Ireland 10-20 years ago who want to now return the favour of kindness they received from the people of Ireland. “I came to Ireland 13 years ago from Turkey. Now it is my turn to welcome others” declared Tuvana Pastine, a Turkish immigrant to Ireland who has signed up to host a Welcome Dinner on ChangeX.
To find out more about how to get involved either by hosting a dinner or by joining as a guest visit the ‘Welcome Dinner’ page on ChangeX at (Link here) and sign-up to get involved!

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