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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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The chef’s tale

Matters of taste

On 20th June, World Refugee Day, I sat with Mohammad El Khaldy, a Syrian chef, outside in the sunshine in Paris. He told me his story and I wrote it down in my notebook:

“Left Damascus early 2012, Lebanese wife, three small sons, Bekaa Valley, problems with the Lebanese authorities, went to Cairo (without his family), started a restaurant just off Tahrir Square, problem with visa permissions, post Sisi takeover Egyptians revoked the Syrian visa waiver, landlord locked him out of his restaurant, offer/ opportunity of restaurant in Marrakesh but he would have had to enter Morocco illegally, got involved with another restaurant project in Cairo and his wife and sons joined him after more than two years of separation, but he was pushed out again by his Egyptian partners who knew, as a foreigner of doubtful legal status, he had no recourse, sold his furniture, borrowed money, ‘my wife said: no we stay together.’ 13th July 2014 boat from Alexandria back and forth five days between offshore Alex and offshore Libya, every day a hundred more people ferried to the boat, ‘we threw everything overboard, even sonar equipment, to get space to put people.’ 750 people on the boat. 12 days. Dates, water, ‘finished food in seven days.’ Finally a container ship saw them, came alongside, gave them water, milk for children, bread, mortadella, canned fish, radioed their position to Italian navy. Life jackets, weather bad swells, two days on navy boat to Italy, basketball hall, ‘they cooked for us.’ Police coming in the morning, bus ticket office closed, nice local Mayor opened bus ticket office, bus to Rome, train to Milan, slept in station, cousin in Denmark, 28 Syrians in a group on train, to Hamburg, to Copenhagen, to very north of Denmark, ‘one year I worked helping translate into English, driver at the camp.’ Asylum refused. To Germany. Brother in Paris. Arrived in Paris October 2015. Camp. After six months accepted asylum France.”

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In Prospect’s August issue: Zoe Williams argues that the first thing we need to do if we are to remain in the EU is to tackle the reasons why so many wanted out—namely pay and conditions at home and the impact of unfettered capitalism. Prospect’s Alex Dean and Tom Clark interviewed former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who says the liberal centre should keep the faith—there is another way to work closely with Europe, but the immigration question is central to finding that solution. Meanwhile, a group of writers including Wolfgang Münchau, Shashank Joshi and Owen Hatherley explain some of the pitfalls, prizes and things you hadn’t thought about when it comes to the UK’s relationship with the EU. Elsewhere in the issue: Former UK diplomat Tom Fletcher profiles the out-going UN human rights chief who is causing a stir by saying the things nobody else would dare. Steve Bloomfield asks what happened to Seymour Hersh—how did the legendary journalist come to echo the thoughts and ideas of Bashar al-Assad; and Phil Ball examines the crisis of male infertility asking: where has all the sperm gone?