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DUNKERQUE, France, November 30 (Reuters) – Days after migrants began pitching tents in a new location along an old railway line in Dunkirk, northern France, last week, Dawan Anwar Mahmud quickly seized the opportunity to build the make-shift camp’s first restaurant.
Made of a wooden frame using nearby trees and covered with a tarpaulin, the restaurant was built in one day and is slightly stronger than a tent.
It’s a precarious existence: On Tuesday, the police arrived at the camp, evicted the inhabitants and demolished their tents and shelters.
Speaking before police arrived, the owner, Mahmud, a 30-year-old man from Qalat Dizah in Iraqi Kurdistan, described how he wanted to start earning money after losing 1,600 pounds (2 100 dollars) for the benefit of a smuggler upon his arrival in France. towards the end of summer.
“I opened a small restaurant to go to England,” he said on Monday. Attempts by Reuters reporters to reach him by phone after Tuesday’s expulsion were unsuccessful.
(Open https://reut.rs/3d6fNcs to see a set of photos about Mahmud’s restaurant and the migrant camp)
Last week a boat of at least 29 people capsized in the English Channel, the 30km (19 mile) stretch of water between Britain and France. Only two people survived, underscoring the great risks migrants take to reach Britain via one of the world’s busiest waterways.
But even before that, Mahmud was terrified of crossing the English Channel. A month ago he was taken to shore by another smuggler and backed off after seeing he would be sharing the boat with 47 people. “I said ‘no, I’m scared!’ He punched me and broke my phone to make sure I wasn’t calling the police.
With his restaurant he planned to raise enough money to get on a boat with fewer people, or better yet, avoid the sea and take a truck. It is rare these days for people to cross the English Channel in a mask in a truck due to increased controls.
MUDDY TERRAIN, WET SHOES
As the route becomes trickier, the price increases: a truck journey to England currently costs around £4,000, compared to £2,500-3,000 for a boat journey.
Mahmud earns between 40 and 70 euros a day and employs two workers, who receive 25 euros a day and also work to pay for their trip to Britain.
On Monday lunchtimes, the restaurant served Kurdish chicken livers in a baguette with sliced tomatoes and onions. One customer, Usman, 21, said he knew the food from his home in Pirashahr, Iran, but hadn’t eaten it since leaving his country last year.
Normally, it’s not his favorite dish, even if he likes it. For now, he says, “it’s the best sandwich in camp because it’s very national food.”
Another client, Mohamed Husseini from Iraq, was not so impressed. “It’s an average sandwich,” he said. The last time he ate chicken livers prepared in this way was a few months ago in Turkey, where he lived for three years and worked as a blacksmith before heading to France.
At night, when he is not cooking with his gas stove, Mahmud lights it in his individual tent and watches films. It’s dangerous but it’s freezing; the ground around his tent is muddy and his shoes are constantly wet.
The camp smells toxic as people start burning bottles and wrappers to keep the bonfires going. “Everyone is at home in front of their fireplace, and here we are under a plastic sheet,” he said.
Mahmud suffers from a long leg injury that bursts in the cold. The problem started in Iraq 10 years ago, he said, when he was arrested, imprisoned for six months and beaten by police, after taking part in protests against the regional government. Doctors said at the time that he might need to have his leg amputated.
Following a violent crackdown in 2015, he says, he decided to leave his country. He moved to Sweden to join his sister but his asylum application was rejected after six years of waiting.
It was there that he learned to cook in a Kurdish restaurant, where he became a specialist in kebabs and flatbread. “I could make 800 pieces of bread by myself in a day,” he said.
Mahmud said he couldn’t make this bread now because he didn’t have a tandoor oven and it didn’t make sense to have one because migrants risked being kicked out by the police at any time.
Eventually, Mahmud’s goal is to open a more permanent restaurant. For now, he thinks Britain is his best bet, but he is keeping an open mind.
“For me, if it’s France or the UK or Germany or Belgium, it’s the same thing,” he said. “I just came here to start a new life.”
($1 = 0.7495 pounds)
Written by Layli Foroudi, edited by William Maclean
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