Migrateful: supporting migrants with the power of food

Written by Katherine Moss, Senior Press Officer

As part of Refugee Week, Dora Perera, Immigration Compliance Officer at Kent, shares her experience of working with Migrateful – an award-winning UK charity with a mission to support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their journey to integration through food.

Food is more than nutrition. When we cook we create, learn about our history, customs and discover our identity. Sharing food is sharing our inheritance, it is a language we all speak and the best medium to bridge the gap between communities.

A charity integrating refugees and asylum seekers through cooking

Migrateful was founded in 2017, seeking to use the power of food to integrate refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK into the community. Displacement creates ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ labels and the most emotionally disheartening obstacle faced is long term integration. Migrants can become isolated waiting for their immigration status to be regularised, which can take years, and in some cases are unable to work or access public funds. The act of cooking, making mistakes and sitting down together to have a family-style dinner humanises the current migration narrative, opens the hearts and minds and fills the bellies of everyone involved.

Migrateful offers a 2-year development programme where migrant integration is fostered through practice of the English language, presentation training, improving self-esteem and learning of transferrable skills to use to interact with the UK community and enrich it with their culture. Refugees are supported, encouraged and trained to lead cookery classes, share their traditional cuisine and heritage to make connections. They develop menus based on their personal family recipes, share the social status behind each recipe or the cultural importance of serving a dish in certain circumstances.

Rebuilding lives, finding purpose

Many migrants who arrive in the UK due to conflict in their country were qualified professionals in HR, nursing, firefighting, lecturing or dreamed of working in the food sector. Where qualifications were not transferable or destroyed in conflict, our chefs are rebuilding their lives and finding connections and passion through sharing their country’s food. After their Migrateful ‘graduation’ they lead teams and share their experience. Once their status was regularised, some became head chefs, owners of catering companies or picked up where their education left off.

The Migrateful experience unsettles the traditional narrative of charity by inviting the contributors to learn from migrant chefs and integrate new techniques and ingredients into their daily lives. Tickets are exchanged for a journey in learning customs and breaking down barriers along the way. The food cooked in a family home in Aleppo contributes to the making of a dish in a home in Canterbury.

Dora’s experience

I come from two war-torn islands and grew up seeing the impact of war on communities; in Cyprus and Sri Lanka. When I emigrated to the UK, I specialised in immigration law and work as an Immigration Compliance Officer at the University of Kent. By day I help international students comply with the terms of their visas while realising their dreams. By night, as the Canterbury Migrateful facilitator, I advocate for impactful and far-reaching opportunities for displaced individuals. Through Migrateful, I am honoured to support asylum seekers, refugees and migrants from across the world on their journey to independence and contribute positively towards the migration discourse by encouraging an inclusive community.

Get involved: cook and support Migrateful in your area

Tickets for the cookery classes include ingredients you need to make a traditional dish with a choice from over 30 countries. In 5 years, Migrateful has hosted over 3,000 cookery classes with 30,000+ participants across London, Bristol, Canterbury and Brighton. Migrateful’s Canterbury classes are hosted at St Martin and St Paul’s CT1 – find out more about Migrateful classes.

Help these classes run: Each Migrateful cookery class relies on a small team of volunteers to run successfully. Find out more about volunteering to assist in cooking classes.

Join an online cookalong for Refugee Week!

On Wednesday 21st June, 5.30 – 7pm, UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency’s national charity for the United Kingdom) have teamed up with Migrateful Syrian refugee chef, Amani, and for an evening of culture and cuisine to celebrate Refugee Week. You can register online to join the free, virtual cooking class on Wednesday. Amani will be taking us step by step through how to make a delicious Syrian Mousakaa (Aubergine & Tomato Mezze) and Fatosh (Arabic Flatbread, Vegetable & Herb Salad).

Refugee Week at Kent

To see what’s on at the University of Kent for Refugee Week an beyond, check out our Refugee Week website for ways you can get involved and contribute, and look for #KentRefugeeWeek on social media – together, we can make a difference in our communities.