Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cooking A Home

Cooking A Home

Canada has a long, mostly proud history of welcoming refugees from far-flung countries around the world.

  • Mennonites in the 1920's
  • a few (less than 5000) Jewish immigrants prior to 1945 - not nearly enough, so shameful
  • 250,000 refugees between 1945 and 1962
  • 37,000 Hungarians in 1956/7
  • US draft dodgers in the 1960's
  • Tibetan refugees in the 1970's
  • 7000 Ugandan Asians in 1972
  • nearly 1200 Chilean refugees in 1975
  • 1978 - 81: 50,000 refugees from South-East Asia
  • in 1993, Canada was the first country in the world to issue guidelines on women refugee claimants fearing gender-related persecution
  • 5000 refugees from Kosovo in 1999
  • Refugee claimants are unsponsored refugees who land at our border either directly or via the US, as part of the Safe Third Country Agreement (2004)
  • hundreds of thousands of refugee claimants (approximately 26,000 yearly) have been admitted from places in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, Haiti, China, Pakistan, Mexico etc. Even the US. The country with the most refugee claimants? Colombia

At the moment, the focus is mainly on Syrian refugees, with the Canadian government setting ambitious targets for 2015 and 2016: 25,000 by Dec. 31, 2015, later amended to Feb. 29, 2016, with a further 50,000 by the end of 2016. 

Not that we're comparing (ok, maybe we are) the US Obama administration has proposed to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees. Many, many US politicians and citizens are opposed.

It's important to mention that these 75,000 refugees coming from Syria are in addition to refugees already coming from other countries - that has not changed.

Some of the refugees are government-sponsored and many others are being privately sponsored by organizations, family members and other groups across the country.

Whether or not your community is, or soon will be, welcoming a refugee family, this little book, Cooking A Home, may be of interest. The author, Pilar Puig Corrada is a young Spanish journalist. A couple of years ago, when she was working in Jordan, she had the epiphany that cooking and sharing meals around a communal table go a long way to assuaging homesickness.

Jordan, by the way, is a small country, population approximately 8 million. When this book was written a year and a half ago, of the 3 million refugees which had already fled Syria, more than 600,000 had reached Jordan. These people, along with previously-admitted Iraqi and Palestinian refugees make up more than 25% of the Jordanian population, putting a huge strain on the Jordanian economy.

Most of these refugees are being held in camps, where conditions are very bad. The refugees are not legally permitted to work and they may not own property. The idea is that refugees in Jordan are there only temporarily, that they will either return at some point to their countries of origin or will move on to another country. Young children attend school but older kids have to abandon their studies. These are people who have survived, but whose lives have been suspended. Many are ill, both physically and mentally. There is not much in the way of hope or joy.

However, when food becomes a topic of conversation, heads turn, eyes light up and people chip in with their 2 cents worth. The author then found Syrians, usually reticent about saying anything at all, willing to talk to her, even to tell her their personal stories and to talk about Syrian food. Some were not only willing but eager, to teach her to cook their favourite recipes, which are included in the book. These recipes, as you might imagine, are simple, given the scarcity of fresh produce and grocery items in general. Each person, though, is confident that his/her recipe is the best (or only) way to cook that particular dish and for each, to talk about food is to honour the past and to share the present.