One of Cork’s greatest accolades has been bestowed upon a young Palestinian family who went from living in Direct Provision to building a new life and successful business here in Cork.
Izzeddeen and wife Eman Alkarajeh overcame the great adversity to create a whole new world for them and their family, opening a nationally acclaimed restaurant and business making traditional Palestinian cuisine and together they have been awarded Cork persons of the month.
From Palestine, Izz moved to Saudi Arabia in 1999 to find work after he graduated from university with a degree in Computer Science. There he met his wife Eman, originally from Jordan. In 2005, the couple applied to return to Palestine with their family. But because Eman did not have civilian status in Palestine, and as Izz’ contract in Saudi Arabia was coming to an end, this put enormous pressure on the couple to find somewhere where their family could live together.
Originally, the couple applied for skilled immigration to Canada, but the age requirements were changed before they had received their visas.
As time was running out, the couple were afraid that they may have to return to their native countries, breaking up their family unit. It was at this point that Izz and Eman came to Ireland and applied for asylum, which took a year to be granted. They spent this year in Direct Provision centres in Dublin and Cork.
While still in Direct Provision, Izz completed a ‘start-your-own-business’ course through SECAD.
Although he had experience working in the IT sector and Eman trained as an interior designer in Jordan, Izz felt that there was an appetite for Palestinian food in Cork from the positive reaction they received whenever they shared their cooking with their new friends in Ireland, A friend put the couple in contact with Darina Allen, who encouraged the couple to embark on their venture and put them in contact with her son-in-law Rupert Hugh-Jones, who runs farmers markets around Cork.
On their first day at Mahon Point Farmers’ Market, Izz and Eman sold out their entire stock in two hours. Their continued success at farmers’ markets led to their decision to open Izz Café, serving the people of Cork with quality, traditional Palestinian food.
Speaking about their success, Izz said, “Cork has proved itself a city of sanctuary, a place of welcome and safety for people of migrant origin like ourselves. Being in Direct Provision was challenging for our family, but we are happy to have met some amazing people who have made Izz Café possible.” Eman added, “The people of Cork have accepted us with open arms and we are so thankful for their continued support.” As a way of saying thanks to their new community, they have supplied free meals recently to Health Care workers during the COVID-19 crisis, from their Izz Cafe on Georges Quay, in Cork’s city centre.
Organiser of the awards Manus O’Callaghan said “Cork has always celebrated diversity in people so it’s not surprising to see our City give people like Izz and Eman and their four children a fresh start, just like many Corkonians got in cities around the world in the past. Izz and Eman have an inspiring story of coming to Ireland as asylum seekers and making Cork their home. Their hard work and commitment to introducing the people of Cork to their traditional cuisine and culture is reflected in the popularity of Izz Café. We wish them continued success for the future.” Izz and Eman Alkarajehs names will now go forward, with the other Cork Persons of the Month chosen this year, for possible selection as Cork Persons of the Year.
Sponsors of the awards scheme are the Irish Examiner/The Echo; RTÉ; Southern; Lexus Cork; AM O’Sullivan PR; Cork Crystal; Tony O’Connell Photography; CAVS; Musgrave MarketPlace.