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Can food change the way people feel about refugees?

Refugee chefs from 25 countries participated in this year's Refugee Food Festival.

Can food change the way people feel about refugees?

For 15 days in June, some of the world's greatest refugee chefs played host to more than 10,000 diners during the second annual Refugee Food Festival.

80 chefs of 25 different nationalities showcased a wide range of dishes highlighting their culture and culinary skills. The big event was an even bigger success than last year, taking stage in 84 restaurants across six European countries. During the festival, each restaurant added new dishes to their regular dining menus and worked with the chefs to create truly unique dining experiences for their guests.

The card reads: "Now more than ever we need to stand with refugees. Add your name to the #WithRefugees petition to send a clear message to governments that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility." Photo by Janou Zoet/UNHCR.


The festival wants to use the power of food to help change people's perceptions of refugees.

The Refugee Food Festival is the product of French non-governmental organization Food Sweet Food and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Together, they hope to change public perception of refugees, help refugees integrate into the local workforce, and encourage new experiences and interests in other cultures.

"None of us decides where to get born, so it is fundamental to remember the values of welcome and integration, which are strategic values ​​to build the future of our society," said Oscar Farinetti, the founder of Eataly, one of the participating restaurant chains, in an interview with the U.N.

Somali chef Hassan Hassan meets with diners. Photo by Yorgos Kyvemitis/UNHCR.

Mission aside, however, the food just looked pretty dang good.

In Lyon, France, chef Mohammad Elkhaldy, a refugee from Syria, offered up some mouth-watering Syrian dishes.

Elkhaldy at Substrat restaurant. Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Sri Lankan chef Nitharshini Mathyalagan added a number of her home dishes to the menu at Paris' Lulu la Nantaise during the festival.

Mathyalagan in Paris. Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Ifrah Daha prepared a Somali "healthy meal" for guests at Les Filles in Belgium.

Daha with diners at Les Filles. Photo by Bea Uhart/UNHCR.

Photo by Bea Uhart/UNHCR.

Syrian chef Wesal helped revamp the brunch menu over at Madrid's Elektra.

Wesal meets with diners. Photo by Jane Mitchell/UNHCR.

Photo by Jane Mitchell/UNHCR.

And at It Restaurant in Athens, Greece, Reza Golami served up authentic Afghan cuisine.

Afghan chef Reza Golami in the kitchen of It. Photo by Yorgos Kyvernitis/UNHCR.

Afghan dish man tou. Photo by Yorgos Kyvernitis/UNHCR.

According to the UNHCR, as of June 2017, as many as 65.6 million people have been forced from their homes worldwide, with 22.5 million of them claiming refugee status. A 2016 Pew Research poll found that more than half of Americans believe that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to take in refugees — and that's a problem shared by a number of other countries.

The truth is that without help from welcoming countries, many refugees may never truly find a home again. To help them, it's important to tackle the public opinion problem, and events like the Refugee Food Festival are great ways to do that.

Visit the Refugee Food Festival and UNHCR websites for more information on how you can help refugees.

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