Restaurant promises refugees in South Korea a taste of Yemen

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Yemenis staying in Jeju enjoy the taste of Yemeni food at Warda.( AN photo)
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Agdah chicken flat break being served at the Warda restaurant on Jeju Island. The Yemeni restaurant serves various Yemeni and and middle eastern dishes, including kabsa, falafel and hummus along with coffee cherry tea. ( AN photo)
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The Warda restaurant is located in the street of an old town of Jeju City in the norther part of the tourist island of Jeju. Warda is the first Yemeni restaurant on the island.( AN photo)
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A Yemeni chef is seen through a window to cook kebabs to serve for guests at the Warda restaurant.( AN photo)
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From left, chef Mohammed Ameen, waiter Sami Al-Baadni, and chef assistant Nasr Alyaremi. (AN photo)
Updated 05 January 2019
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Restaurant promises refugees in South Korea a taste of Yemen

  • Hundreds of asylum seekers have fled to Jeju Island to escape war
  • Restaurant owner hopes the cafe will bridge cultural differences

JEJU: Weeks after the South Korean government denied refugee status to hundreds of Yemenis who arrived in the East Asian country last year to flee catastrophe back home, classical musician Ha Min-kyung knew she had to do something to help.
First, she offered more than a hundred Yemenis shelter at her music studio in her hometown of Jeju, a tourist island off the southern coast of South Korea which a no-visa entry policy has turned into a safe haven for asylum seekers fleeing civil-war in Yemen.
Next, Min-Kyung decided to give Yemenis a taste of home by opening a halal food restaurant serving the dishes they were accustomed to eating in their ravaged homeland. The Yemeni civil war, which the United Nations has described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, has displaced about 2 million people and more than 8 million are on the brink of famine.
“I lent my studio in the basement to scores of Yemenis and decided to open a Yemeni restaurant with the help of a couple of Yemeni employees,” Min-Kyung told Arab News in the resort town of Jeju.
The restaurant is named Wardah after the nickname Min-Kyung’s Yemeni friends gave her, which means flower in Arabic. Wardah opened its doors to the public last November. Designed and built by her Yemeni friends, its cosy interior is made almost entirely of wood, with Yemeni ornaments hanging on the wall. The menu is entirely halal and comprises hot dishes of lamb and chicken kabsa, a mixed rice dish, meat soups, agdah chicken with flat bread and Middle Eastern appetizers such as hummus.
The sudden influx of asylum seekers in 2018 spawned anti-migrant and anti-Muslim sentiment across South Korea and only two of the more than 480 Yemenis there were granted refugee status in December. The central government has also since changed its policy and now requires Yemenis to get visas to enter Jeju.
But Min-Kyung’s new restaurant promises to be a cultural bridge. Every day the five-table restaurant opens at noon and both South Koreans and Yemenis arrive to eat and chat together.
“One of the reasons for opening Wardah was to help more Koreans understand Yemen and its people better,” Min-Kyung said. “Korean travelers as well as local residents are coming here to enjoy a taste of Yemeni food, and they can develop more positive views about Yemeni people.”
Indeed, if Korean guests arrive with Yemeni friends, they get a discount, Min-Kyung said, chuckling. Customers can also buy tiny brooches made by Yemeni children, and all proceeds go to the community.
Lee Hye-rim, 39, said he ate at Wardah during a recent trip to the island. He had arrived on the island with feelings of “some prejudice” against Yemenis but left with a better understanding of their culture.
“I was introduced to this restaurant by a friend living in Jeju,” Hye-rim said. “The taste is really good and I think this kind of place is a good way to get to know each other and make cultural exchanges.”
Lee Dong-hyung, 25, who works at a street market near the restaurant, said many locals “talk bad” about Yemenis but she had learnt that much of the anti-refugee, Islamophobic rhetoric was not true.
“Most of (the Yemenis) I’ve met here in the restaurant are very friendly to Koreans and are peaceful people,” she said.
The chef at Wardah is Mohammed Ameen Almaamari, 35, who has worked in the food industry in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as back home in Yemen, for the past 12 years. “I cook food for both Yemenis and Koreans here,” said Almaamari, who fled Yemen to escape being recruited by a rebel force. “There were many Yemenis here but many of them went to Seoul.”
Immigration authorities last year barred the refugees from traveling to mainland South Korea, though many have since left Jeju. Employment has been restricted to fishing, fish farms and restaurant work but many remain unemployed.
Najla, 35, arrived in Jeju by plane last April. She is one of a handful of Yemenis with a humanitarian residence permit that allows her to travel to other regions of the country. In September, she flew to Gwangju, a southwestern region of South Korea, to work as a painter but lost her job and returned to Jeju.
“It’s a great atmosphere here. It’s like a piece of my country,” she said as she ate at Wardah. “Everything, the people working here, the atmosphere, food, the tea, is as I remember it.”
Sami Al-Baadni, a waiter of the restaurant, called Wardah a “home for Yemenis.” “When you eat this food, you remember your country and the days when you were a child,” said the 23-year-old Yemeni who studied computer data-processing at a university in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. “So it’s like a home for Yemenis.”


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.