‘Ethiopia is my home’: Syrian chefs build new lives fuelled by shawarma

Adna Mohammed moved to Ethiopia in 2013 and now owns a successful shawarma restaurant in Addis Ababa. Samuel Getachew

When Maetz Lebhar visited Ethiopia for a conference on dairy products in 2015, he did not expect to be calling the country his home within the space of a year.

Attracted by the market potential of products from his native Syria, including accessories to make shawarma, the 37 year old returned the following year hoping to find a local partner to help expand his business, perhaps in the form of opening a restaurant. It wasn’t long before the work trip turned into a permanent visit.

“I lost my extended family in the [Syrian] conflict and all our properties turned to ashes. I made Ethiopia my home as my circumstances changed in the blink of an eye”, he told The National.

“In Addis, I have been welcomed and I have managed to make my living selling the delicacies of my home.”

Mr Lebhar works as a chef in a local restaurant and earns ETB30, 000 a month (USD 950) close to the annual average wage of $985.

Ethiopia currently hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, at over one million refugees, mostly from Eritrea, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Now Syrians are joining their ranks, attracted by favourable asylum laws.

So far, more than one million Syrians have been displaced from their homeland by the nine-year conflict. They constitute a third of the world’s refugee population, with their numbers reaching 5.6 million by the end of last year, according to the UN.

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