Syrian entrepreneur Yara Al Adib gestures excitedly as she issues instructions to her team. On the other side of a gleaming metal counter, four Syrian women are shaping mounds of triangular fatayer, small pastries stuffed with spinach and pine nuts.
They have their work cut out. She and the team, all female refugees from Syria, are preparing for the grand opening of their first permanent site: a kitchen and takeaway in a suburb of Antwerp.
The event is 29-year-old Yara’s finest hour. In the past year, her business, ‘From Syria With Love’, has blossomed from a street-food market stall into a fully-fledged enterprise able to feed up to 800 people at a time.
Yara, a Syrian-born refugee who grew up in Kuwait, had the idea of a catering business while wondering how best to help the many new arrivals to Belgium in the summer of 2015. From her own experience, she knew work would be a vital ingredient in their economic and social integration.
“You are contributing, it gives you purpose.”
“Working is a way to feel useful again,” said Yara, whose academic background helped her land a consulting job not long after she was granted asylum in Belgium in 2014.
“It’s a feeling that you are contributing, it gives you purpose. That makes you feel good, that you’re not just a burden but you can give back somehow.”
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, today (April 24) launched an action plan to expand employment opportunities for refugees. The document not only identifies the challenges, opportunities and best practices in the integration of refugees to the labour market, but also offers a list of concrete actions to support the successful employment of refugees.
Yara decided to focus her efforts on housewives, who would find it hardest to adjust socially and find work. The key, she was sure, was cooking, a skill that most Syrians take for granted but which could be put to good use in a catering business.
Yara Al Adib serves a guest at the launch of her catering company’s first kitchen in Antwerp, Belgium. © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse