Pizzeria job offers Somali refugee a lifeline to self-reliance

Monday 17, December 2012 MARIBOR, 17 December (UNHCR) – Abubakar skillfully stretches the rounded dough while glancing at the Pepperoni pizza in the beehive oven behind him to check whether the cheese is melting yet. Then, he carefully spreads the fresh tomato sauce on the top and adds the other […]

Monday 17, December 2012

MARIBOR, 17 December (UNHCR) – Abubakar skillfully stretches the rounded dough while glancing at the Pepperoni pizza in the beehive oven behind him to check whether the cheese is melting yet. Then, he carefully spreads the fresh tomato sauce on the top and adds the other ingredients. Half side prosciutto and mushroom; half side vegetarian.

The 31-year-old Somali refugee has been working as pizza baker for 18 months at Trattoria Padrino, an Italian restaurant in Maribor in north-eastern Slovenia. He is happy and relieved to have just received a new contract for a year, remembering “how impossible it seemed in the beginning to find a job.”

Abubakar Hassan Maow learnt his pizza baking trade in Malta where he lived for four-and-a-half years after crossing the Mediterranean in June 2006 on a makeshift boat from Libya. He had fled his home in Somalia to save his life, after witnessing his father and four siblings killed.

The young Somali moved to Slovenia two years ago as one of the eight refugees relocated from Malta within the European Union relocation project EUREMA, designed to ease the burden on Malta in the wake of its rapidly expanding refugee population. 

Though he earned good money in Malta (about 1300 euros a month), Abubakar could not imagine life there in the long run and did not feel welcomed by the locals. “You cannot hope for citizenship,” Abubakar said citing the case of another Somali who lived 14 years in the country without being naturalized. “You have to renew your documents every year.”

“I thought if a country took a few people only, unlike big countries taking many people, it must be because it wanted to give them a good care,” recalled Abubakar of his decision to accept the relocation opportunity to Slovenia two years ago. He also loved the beautiful photos of the mountains and the sea he found on the internet.

But arriving in Slovenia, Abubakar had to face the cold reality: he did not know the language, it was freezing, his heater often did not work and he needed a job urgently because the then 190-euro monthly social support lasted only half the month.  

Without knowing Slovene, Abubakar found it tough to find a job despite help from the coordinator of his orientation programme, Martina Majerle, who had sent around his resume to pizzerias. A few months later, Majerle noticed an ad at her local pizza restaurant and immediately asked if they would consider testing out the Somali refugee.

“First he came two-three days a week for a couple of hours, and after we saw that he was doing everything properly, baked good pizza, worked clean and already had relevant experience, we were happy to take him,” said Melita Dovnik, one of the three managers of the popular Italian eatery.

For the managers, it wasn’t a problem that Abubakar did not yet know Slovene very well, as long as he could read orders and recipes. “We have also worked abroad in a restaurant in Switzerland for nine years and know how difficult it can be to find a job as a foreigner, without knowing the language,” Dovnik remembered. Her staff accepted their new colleague quickly, and today they speak to him more in Slovene than English to help him progress.

Until now, Abubakar is the only refugee out of the eight relocated from Malta to have found work in Slovenia and had almost given up before Trattoria Padrino gave him a chance. “I said to myself: Slovenia is my new home. Be it good or bad, I have to find here my own feet,” recalls Abubakar but adds without the job he probably would have left eventually.  

With a job now in his hand, Abubakar has two more dreams. One is to bring his family to Slovenia whom he has not seen for seven years. His wife, two sons (aged nine and 11) and daughter (just six years old) live in Mogadishu. The littlest one he has yet to meet, as his wife was just pregnant when he fled.

His other dream is to open a wholesale food and clothes store in Slovenia just like his father had in Somalia.

Until then he is happily gathering more experience in the pizzeria. His boss is also satisfied.  “He has proven his skills so by us, he can stay as long as he wants,” Dovnik told UNHCR.

By Éva Hegedűs in Maribor, Slovenia