Syrian refugee in UK uses catering business to highlight Assad atrocities

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Majeda Khoury set up her own company in 2019. It enables her to combine her two passions: Food and human rights activism. (File/Supplied)
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Majeda Khoury poses with some of the meals that she donated to people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. (File/Supplied)
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Majeda Khoury speaks at an event to highlight the atrocities of the Assad regime. (File/Supplied)
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A view of some of the meals that Majeda Khoury cooked at discounted price for needy people during Ramadan 2020. (File/Supplied)
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Updated 25 June 2020

Syrian refugee in UK uses catering business to highlight Assad atrocities

  • Khoury’s catering business supplies human rights organizations with food
  • She is keen to speak at events held by these organizations to highlight the suffering of the Syrian people

LONDON: A London-based Syrian refugee is using food to spread awareness of the plight of people in her home country.
Majeda Khoury, 49, is originally from Damascus and arrived in the UK in 2017. Two years later, she set up her own company that enables her to combine her two passions: Food and human rights activism.
She launched The Syrian Sunflower in August 2019 with the support of The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN), a social enterprise that supports refugee entrepreneurs in the creation and development of their businesses.

Khoury’s catering business supplies human rights organizations with food. She is keen to speak at events held by these organizations to highlight the suffering of the Syrian people.
“I run a catering business and teach cookery classes as part of it. I supply human rights organizations and companies that are interested in refugees and allow me to speak at events,” she told Arab News.
“My company is also a platform for other Syrian refugee women who want to start their own businesses in the food industry, and I train them.”
Khoury said showing the world the atrocities that the Assad regime has committed is a “very important job.”

She added: “I started participating in human rights activism in 2011 after the revolution and documented violence against women. I also worked with relief organizations that helped displaced people in Syria.
“From the first moment of the Syrian revolution, the situation was very scary but we were excited. Syrians had been waiting for that moment for the last 50 years, since Hafez Assad became president. He was a dictator and Syrians have always had this dream to find a way to go against the regime.”
Khoury was arrested and imprisoned in a detention center in Damascus for six months in 2013.
She said the center “wasn’t fit for animals,” and “is one of the most dangerous detention centers in the country. Many prisoners didn’t make it out alive.”
She added: “It was a horrible place, and as a human rights activist I highlight the rape and torture that takes place there to the whole world.”
Khoury said she started documenting the torture that she witnessed and experienced in the detention center with an organization called Urnammu after she was released.
Urnammu is a Syrian grassroots organization registered in Canada that documents violence against women and children in detention centers. It has members all over the world.
“This wasn’t just activism, it was a very important mission in my life to document these human rights abuses,” Khoury said.
“We need the whole world to highlight this and support both Syrians inside the country and abroad to get justice.”
Khoury was forced to leave Syria because of her advocacy against human rights violations, first to Lebanon and then the UK.
Far from home and everything familiar, she found herself using food and cooking as a way to continue her human rights activism in London.

“When I came to the UK in 2017, I found myself far from my community, friends, family and activism. I tried to find a platform that would help me continue advocacy work against the Syrian regime,” Khoury said.
“I’ve always had a passion for food. In Syria, I used food to indulge my family and friends. One of my friends in London introduced me to Migrateful, an organization that runs cookery classes led by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.”
The organization’s mission is to empower and celebrate refugees and vulnerable migrants on their journey to integration, by supporting them to run their own cookery classes. It also promotes contact and cultural exchange with the wider community.
Khoury said she was keen to highlight the human rights violations committed by the Syrian regime and signed up to teach classes immediately.
“I started teaching two classes per week, and I met between 12 and 20 people per class. At the end, we’d share a meal and speak about what was happening in Syria. I became known as not just a Syrian chef but also an activist,” she added.
Khoury then did a six-month course with TERN. “They helped me to register my company, The Syrian Sunflower, in August 2019 when I launched my business,” she said.
Khoury has also been busy giving back to her new community in London during the coronavirus pandemic when her business experienced a quieter-than-usual period.
She helped self-isolating neighbors and friends with their shopping when the UK lockdown was announced, and distributed 200 free meals to homeless and needy people in her community.

“I also cooked 200 iftar meals for a discounted price, which were distributed to asylum seekers and people in need during Ramadan by a charity,” she said.
Although Khoury has integrated into British society and has successfully started her own business while continuing her activism, she said she still clings onto hope that she will one day be able to return to a democratic Syria.
“I want to go back to Syria, and I hope there will eventually be a political solution in the country. I want to see (President) Bashar Assad imprisoned,” she added.
“I’d like to return to my extended family and my home. I didn’t decide to be a refugee. For refugees, exile is the saddest period of their lives.”

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

Updated 11 July 2020

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

  • 246,351 cases registered since late February

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travelers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News this week.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travelers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travelers were kept at big isolation centers established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 246,351 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the numbers of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eid Al-Adha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed.

“Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”