PETALING JAYA: A Malaysian-run initiative called Kitchen in Calais now feeds a thousand Syrian refugees every day at the refugee camp in Calais, France, said the kitchen’s founder Jamalulail Ismail.
The 47-year old engineer told The Star Online at the Saidina Umar Al Khattab Mosque here on Wednesday that his initiative began with one caravan in 2015 that served 100 refugees every day.
“It began with my family and one caravan, which grew to a shed – and now we have our own compound with volunteers working at running the kitchen,” said Jamalulail.
He said that his initiative started in early September 2015, after photos of the body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi appeared on the front pages of British newspapers.
“At the time, my wife said that we should go and see what we could do to help – and the one in Calais is the closest refugee centre to our home in Durham in Britain,” said Jamalulail.
He said that going to the Calais refugee camp was a shocking experience for him and his family.
“We were shocked when we got there. France is a very civilised country, but the conditions at Calais were really poor. People were looking for food and were living in tents, and the temperature can drop to 5 degrees Celsius at night,” said Jamalulail.
He added that in observing conditions at the camp, the first thing that he did was to provide gas and gas stoves as he noticed that many of the refugees did not have kitchens to cook food with some even burning their clothes to start fires for cooking.
Jamalulail said that his family gathered the funds and bought 20 gas stoves to provide one stove for every 20 to 30 refugees.
“We had a target to provide enough stoves to help 4,000 people but by the time we had given out 110 stoves, we realised it was not a feasible plan due to safety and security reasons. At that time, my wife suggested that it would be better if we cooked the food and provided the refugees with food,” he said.
When asked, Jamalulail added that most of the food used by Kitchen in Calais came from supporters and donors.
“All the food we use comes from donations which have been flowing in, thankfully. Last month, someone from Bradford donated six tonnes of rice, two tonnes of dates, two tonnes of lentils and 20,000 bottles of mineral water,” he said.
Jamalulail added that the InTouch Foundation of Bradford supplies a tonne of rice every month and Calais Refugee Support supplies eight large pots of biryani every weekend.
He said that it costs them roughly £2,000 (RM10811.17) every day to feed 1,000 people.
“However, we face challenges when it comes to volunteers and other logistical supplies like gas, petrol and places for the volunteers to stay. We now have 12 volunteers, six are from the refugee community while six of the volunteers are Malaysian students studying abroad,” said Jamalulail.
He spoke of the experiences of the Syrian volunteers.
“We can’t begin to comprehend the trauma that the refugees have experienced. One of my volunteers saw her father killed in front of her. Another volunteer went for morning prayers and came home to find her entire family killed when her home was bombed. She’s 14 years old,” said Jamalulail.
Asked how much food Kitchen In Calais uses on a daily basis, he said that it uses 120kg of rice, 60kg of potatoes and 100 tomatoes and 100 iceberg lettuces for the salad.
“For the Syrians, salad is like sambal belacan to Malaysians. They must have it with their meals,” said Jamalulail.
On how Malaysians can help, Jamalulail said that people could get in touch with him through the Kitchen in Calais Facebook page.
“What we need now is people who can volunteer their time and energy. There is so much that needs to be done. We also need cash for petrol for our generators and cooking gas and we also need cash to buy meat, as those who donate food normally donate dry foodstuffs,” said Jamalulail.