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Afghan trainee chef has the recipe to make it in Hungary


Afghan trainee chef has the recipe to make it in Hungary

Six years ago, Zia Karimi was a teenager in Pakistan, his life in turmoil after fleeing Afghanistan. Now he is a trainee chef in a top Budapest hotel with a career plan.
27 October 2014 Also available in:
Afghan refugee Zia Karimi greets the chef at the hotel where he works as a trainee cook. He's managed to impress the kitchen staff.

BUDAPEST, Hungary, October 27 (UNHCR) - Six years ago, Zia Karimi was a teenager in Pakistan, his life in turmoil after fleeing persecution and violence in Afghanistan. Now he is a trainee chef in a top Budapest hotel with his own family and a career plan.

In the spotless hotel kitchen, Zia prepares lunch for his colleagues before service begins in the restaurant. He's a popular young man with a good sense of humour and the kitchen staff clearly admire his determination, willingness to learn, stamina and work ethic. He has fitted in well.

"I like to work with Zia, because he's always nice to me," said one young woman, while his boss reckoned that the trainee chef was "able and hard-working, so he has every chance to become a good cook." The 21-year-old studies in a cookery school, but does the practical training in the hotel, where he is the first refugee to be taken on as a trainee.

The ethnic Hazara, who now considers himself almost Hungarian, has come far in a short space of time. He grew up with his family in a village about one hour's drive from Kabul, herding livestock and attending a local madrassa (religious school).

But six years ago, when Zia was 15, the village was attacked by Taliban forces. "We returned from the hills with the animals, we saw huge clouds of smoke above our homes. The village was attacked and ransacked; my father and one of my brothers were injured," he recalled, adding: "We had to leave."

The family found shelter in neighbouring Pakistan, but soon Zia, as the oldest son, was sent ahead to Europe. His perilous journey as an unaccompanied minor led him through Iran, Turkey and Greece before finally arriving later in 2008 in Hungary, a country he knew almost nothing about.

He decided to seek asylum. "I was completely exhausted and terrified. People looked after me here, they gave me food and I could learn. My life as an Afghan has been very difficult, so I decided to be partly Hungarian," he explained.

Zia commutes to Budapest to study and work there. He likes to unwind with wife Julianna and their young son after getting back home.

Zia started by learning the language and then decided to learn a trade, choosing cookery. He received a scholarship earlier this year and now spends one week in the classroom and one week in the hotel kitchens perfecting his craft.

The hotel manager said he was a bit worried at first that there would be a language barrier, "but that fear disappeared quickly. He speaks the language better than some of the locals."

With his career plan on track, Zia turned his attention to finding a girlfriend. His newly acquired Hungarian helped him get to know his girlfriend, Julianna. They met in a club, fell in love, moved in together, and have a 15-month-old baby, whom Zia dotes on and calls Made in Hungary. "I used to hang out with friends after work, but that's all over, I just run home nowadays," he laughed.

The three of them live with his girlfriend's parents about 30 kilometres outside Budapest, since Zia's scholarship of 60 euros a month, support for himself of 100 euros a month and monthly child allowance for his son of 120 euros does not go far. When training at the hotel, he eats his meals there.

That is why Zia wants to launch his own fast food business once he has finished his cookery course. He will feature popular Hungarian dishes, including goulash, on the menu.

Although he was born and raised in a large family, he would prefer to look after a smaller one in his newly adopted country. "This is my home now . . . I was accepted here and people are nice to me."

By Balint Linder in Budapest, Hungary



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.