Palestinian refugee finds a recipe for success in Mexico

News Stories, 18 January 2007

© UNHCR/M.Echandi
Palestinian refugee Ali Nadi cooks up a storm with the help of a Mexican employee in his new restaurant.

TEHUACAN, Mexico, January 18 (UNHCR) The Palestinians have a word to describe something strange and unfamiliar they call it mexecy, or literally "like Mexico." But for Ali Nadi, the Latin American nation is now home and he has found a way to reach out to his new neighbours through their stomachs.

The Palestinian found it hard adapting to life in Mexico after arriving here more than a year ago to join his older brother, an established computer engineer. The 23-year-old Ali had decided to leave his home district near Jerusalem after facing hardship and harassment from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

After he was granted refugee status, Ali decided to make use of his excellent culinary skills and opened a restaurant in Puebla, a beautiful colonial city located about 130 kilometres south-east of Mexico City. His brother, who also owned a tourism agency, chipped in with financial help, but custom was slow and the business foundered.

Undaunted, the brothers decide to try again in Tehuacán, south of Puebla. Some two months after the Kef Halak restaurant opened, business is thriving and the locals can't get enough of the eastern Mediterranean and Arab cuisine.

Ali, sporting a white chef's toque, comes out of the kitchen and proudly tells his UNHCR visitors that even the president of the municipality has dropped in for a meal with his wife.

The menu includes classic dishes such as falafel, kibbeh, humus and taboule, which are served by Mexican employees. It's a recipe for success, but Ali has to work hard to keep the customers happy. The day begins at eight-thirty in the morning and ends at 9:00 p.m.

And it's not just about the food; Ali also wants people to know a bit more about the troubled land where he was born. "I want to disseminate my culture. All you can see here was brought from Palestine. The paintings, the clothes that the waiters are wearing. We are now listening to Palestinian radio," he says.

"I'm Palestinian, but people only see us as Arabs. They think we came from Saudi Arabia. People have even told us that we look like Kaliman a famous cartoon superhero in Mexico who came from the East," adds Ali, while noting that Palestinians also know very little about Mexico.

While Ali is doing his bit to bridge the gap between Latin America and the Middle East, he is also bubbling with lots of other ideas and projects. These include a book on astrology, his second passion. "I've been writing it for the last two-and-a-half months and I hope to have it done by April," he says.

The energetic young Palestinian also reveals plans to create a non-governmental organisation for social development in Mexico. "There are many opportunities in this country to work together and implement development projects in health, education and labour opportunities," Ali says, adding: "With this idea I am rewriting my own history."

Ali says life has been looking up his projects are taking off, his brother is likely to get Mexican citizenship soon and his mother arrived in Mexico last November under a family reunification programme. He's also optimistic about 2007.

"I want people to know that a refugee is not someone who once had troubles and stayed that way forever. I want to change the vision people have about refugees. I'm a sort of ambassador. I want to contribute with a little seed."

By Mariana Echandi in Tehuacán, Mexico

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Palestinians Refugees in Iraq

Since the overthrow in 2003 of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Palestinian refugees in Baghdad have increasingly become the targets of arrest, kidnapping, threats and murder, prompting thousands to flee the capital.

There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq – compared to more than double that number in 2003. They live in constant fear, many without proper documentation. For those who try to leave, the trip to Iraq's border with Syria and Jordan is increasingly dangerous. Hundreds are stuck at the Iraq-Syrian border, too scared to go back and unable to cross the frontier. Those who do manage to leave Iraq, often do so illegally.

International support is urgently needed to find a temporary humanitarian solution for the Palestinians. UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the international community and countries in the region to offer refuge to the Palestinians. The refugee agency has also approached resettlement countries, but only Canada and Syria have responded positively. Syria has since closed its borders to other desperate Palestinians.

UNHCR also advocates for better protection of the Palestinian community inside Iraq.

Palestinians Refugees in Iraq

Al Tanf: Leaving No Man's Land

In February 2010, the last 60 Palestinian inhabitants of the squalid camp of Al Tanf on the Syria-Iraq border were ushered onto buses and taken to another camp in Syria.

Al Tanf camp was established in May 2006, when hundreds of Palestinians fleeing persecution in Iraq tried in vain to cross into Syria. With no country willing to accept them, they remained on a strip of desert sandwiched between a busy highway and a wall in the no-man's-land between Iraq and Syria.

Along with daily worries about their security, the residents of Al Tanf suffered from heat, dust, sandstorms, fire, flooding and even snow. The passing vehicles posed another danger. At its peak, Al Tanf hosted some 1,300 people.

UNHCR encouraged resettlement countries to open their doors to the Palestinians. Since 2008, more than 900 of them have been accepted by countries such as Belgium, Chile, Finland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The last group of Palestinians were transferred to Al Hol camp in Syria, where they face continuing restrictions and uncertainty.

Al Tanf: Leaving No Man's Land

Mexico: Fleeing Central American Gang ViolencePlay video

Mexico: Fleeing Central American Gang Violence

Tens of thousands of people make their way to Mexico on mixed migration routes every year. They include victims of gang violence who need protection.