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On World Refugee Day, Can We Imagine New Ways to Come Together?

On World Refugee Day, Can We Imagine New Ways to Come Together?

Chef and author Yasmin Khan traveled to Greece, to visit those most affected by the refugee crisis. There, she saw grief and loss, but also a possible path forward.

The triumphant sound of Afrobeat blares from small, tinny speakers perched atop the kitchen counter. The rhythm makes my head nod and my hips sway as I pick a tomato from the pile in front of me and use my paring knife to slice the fruit into thick triangles before throwing them into a large plastic bowl. Next to me stand my fellow line cooks, an international squad from Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe, though national identities seem irrelevant here, in a place where so many are stateless, trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos, detained in one of the world’s most notorious refugee camps. We keep our heads down as we prep lunch, silently chopping onions and dicing cabbage, our eyes focused and hands quick. It’s our moment of mindfulness for the day. Earlier, one of my kitchen companions told me that working here, at the One Happy Family Community Center, got her out of her head and out of her thoughts. Out of Mória, the largest of the official Greek camps on the island, where, at the time of my visit, 19,000 people were living crammed into a space set up for 3,000—or at least they did until the camp burned down in the fall of 2020. Out of camps where there are fights every night. Where sexual assaults are high. Where you have to queue for hours to get food handouts, and at the end of that, sometimes you open them to find maggots inside. Out of the camps where traumatized people are detained in traumatizing conditions. Where suicide rates are high. Where children as young as six have attempted to take their own lives.

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