A hot meal in a refugee camp is always welcome, but in Obrenovac and other refugee camps in Serbia, a meal is also a portal to the home and loved ones left behind by the refugees and migrants who live in limbo in camps.
“Kookoo Sibzamini [potato patties] is what I had in my backpack when I left home. My sister made them for me for the road. I told myself I need to save them for later when it gets tough. But I ate them all. I don’t think they even got cold,” says Mohsen from Iran.
Moshen’s favourite dish is one of seven popular healthy, homely recipes cooked in refugee camps in Serbia, which were provided by the refugees themselves. Oxfam, which is serving meals at the Obrenovac camp 30km south-west of the capital Belgrade, along with Care and CaritasEuropa, had run a survey asking refugees and migrants what they wanted to eat. The refugees came up with a lot of suggestions, but many also offered recipes from their own countries. Now, instead of the usual breaded fish and vegetable curry, Obrenovac and several other camps are serving traditional dishes from Afghanistan, Syria, India, Iran and Pakistan.
Oxfam asked an illustrator to make colourful and easy to read recipe cards for seven of the recipes. The cards also include recollections from some of the refugees: where the recipe came from, who first cooked it for them, the last time they ate it, etc. For example, Gjulan from India (Kashmir) says that the smell of Gajar Matar ki Sabzi, a spicy stew now cooked at the camps, instantly transports him home. “When me and my brothers would come back from school my mother would be by the stove cooking the stew, dancing along with the music from TV. In my mind, it is still like this back home: music ad the smells of cooking.”
“Refugees’ life is hard,” says Ali who came from Pakistan, “but when I sit with people and eat at the dinner table, I am very happy.”
Most refugees in the camps have been in Serbia for over a year and have attempted to cross the border into neighbouring countries such as Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Hungary - and been turned back. They are trying to reach other countries in Europe, either to claim asylum, reunite with family members or to find work.
In 2017, there were nearly 4,000 migrants in Serbia, of which 89% are housed in camps.