Freedom Through Food

Maryam Madani reports on the groups in Dublin who are using cooking to help refugees from all over the world to get back on their feet

A new community cooking group has been formed by women in Direct Provision to enable them to cook their own meals and provide access to kitchen facilities.  

“Cooking for Freedom” was set up in December 2017, with the help of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland, who assisted them in sourcing cooking facilities in Jigsaw, where the group currently holds its monthly dinners and weekly cooking sessions.

The group’s 20 members, and their cuisines, each hail from different countries, including Nigeria, Bangladesh, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Algeria, Pakistan and Uganda.

Mavis Ramazani, co-founder, tells us that: “The group came about because we felt we are going to lose the cooking skills, and also we missed preparing our own native food.”

“I miss dumplings, home-made steam bread… I also miss my favourite type of side dish I used to put in my food, achaar,” said Ramazani.

These and more, such as “samp”, a South African dish made from corn kernels, are the kinds of food the group is now able to provide for themselves and their families: “for now, once a week we prepare a dish that will last for a week”.

“Cooking was a right that was taken away from us”  

The Direct Provision system was established in Ireland in 2000 to hold asylum seekers while their applications for refugee status are processed. It was intended to be a temporary system, detaining residents for no more than three years. But more commonly, asylum seekers report being held for between seven and ten years. During this time they are unable to work or enter third level education, with little to no access to cooking facilities. Adults are given €21.60 a week to subsist on, and children €15.60.   

The €50-67 million that the State pays private contractors to run the Direct Provision system every year also includes catering companies such as “East Coast Catering” who provide set meals at set times. A Department of Justice report which included interviews of children in Direct Provision said food provision was among the most common problems, including “issues such as not getting enough food, children not being allowed to have milk, lack of variety, poorly cooked and undercooked food, out-of-date food.”

“Cooking was a right that was taken away from us,” Ramazani has written on their Patreon page. “It means a lot to cook now. It’s like self-empowerment to us. The project lets us build relationships with one another where we get to meet. It’s also very good for our mental health. It’s such a pleasure standing above those pots putting in those ingredients and to know at the end of the day you are eating what you have prepared for yourself.”

“Cooking for Freedom” is not yet a business which can enable its members to work and earn a living, like other similar catering groups such as “Our Table”, founded by Ellie Kisyombe. The funds that “Cooking for Freedom” receives goes directly to providing ingredients for meals and equipment to improve the limited capacity of Jigsaw’s cooking facilities. For now, it has not greatly reduced its members’ difficulties but has helped to ease them and provide a space for their children to play and be fed by their mothers. As Ramazani says: “It’s good for our mental wellness. When you are around other people you can share ideas, chat and forget for a while about your own situation.”

You can hire “Cooking for Freedom” to cater your event, support them on their Patreon page, or visit them in person to find out how to get involved. They will be cooking for Dublin Central Housing Action’s monthly public Community Dinner in Jigsaw on Saturday May 19.

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