Computer nerd turned cafe manager Izzeddeen Akarajeh and his wife Eman are cooking up a storm in the recently opened Izz Cafe on George’s Quay.
Izz, 45, came to Cork in 2016 seeking asylum with his wife and their four children, Jana, 15, Lama, 13, Jouri, 10 and Omar, 7.
The Palestinian had been working in Saudi Arabia for the past 17 years in IT, developing software systems and facilitating Government online systems.
When the recession hit in 2016, Izz’s contract was terminated and he and his family were forced to leave the country.
Although originally from Palestine, Izz and his family could not return to their homeland as they would be separated and the family unit would be broken.
“We couldn’t go back to Palestine as we would have been split as a family. My wife would not have been recognised as a part of our family as she was born in Jordan to a Palestinian refugee family.” The Akarajeh family came to Ireland, seeking refuge, and they were sent to Cork to await the news of their legal battle to reside here as a family.
Izz described the moment he found out he and his family had the right to remain in Ireland.
“The day we received our asylum application approval was so emotional, we cried because that was the only moment we realized that our family is going to stay together.
“When I was in Direct Provision, every day I would go to the post to check if I had any correspondence. That day, I was at breakfast and I had a call from my solicitor, he had opened the letter before us.
He told me to check the post and stayed on the phone with me, waiting for me to get my post. Then he started laughing when I opened it and said ‘congratulations’. I was almost crying.
“Back in the canteen everyone was hugging us and shaking our hands.” Izz said it was the first time he and his family felt safe.
“I was always nervous while in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t feel secure. The status of our family was not recognised and the worry deepened with every family visit to Palestine.” The cafe owner said that he very much enjoys living in Cork and praised Cork people for their wonderful hosting skills and welcoming attitude.
“I like that the movement of Independence started in the South and I love the way Cork people say that Cork is the real capital… I have never had a negative interaction in Cork.
“I think Cork people are lovely, generous and welcoming, everyone wants you to feel at home.”
Although Izz and his family are very much at home in Cork, the cafe owner said he does miss home and would return if there was a way of keeping the family together.
“I am not here because I don’t feel safe, I am here because my family would not be allowed to stay together in Palestine. If I can find a way to go back with my family I would go.
“I have no fear. I grew up with the Israelis. I don’t think they will stop being aggressive, but I am able to handle myself around them.
“If everyone seeks refuge somewhere else, there will be no one left and the Israelis will take over.” Discussing what he misses from Palestine, Izz said he misses his mom.
“I miss my mom a lot. I haven’t been home since I came to Ireland. We keep in touch with WhatsApp.
“I really miss hiking back home, we lived in a beautiful location and I miss the family gatherings.” Here in Cork, the newly opened Izz Cafe has taken a hit since the Covid-19 crisis hit.
“Coronavirus has been very bad for our business. Custom has dropped by more than 80%” Despite this, Izz Cafe is still open for business and they are working with a local company NeighbourFood to get their meals to people stuck at home.
“We are working without staff members, just me and my wife, Working very hard with a restricted menu.” Izz said his wife’s very popular Chicken Musakhan which is a traditional Palestine dish is flying out the door and her Falafel is equally popular.
“We are trying to at least pay our bills. I’m not sure if we are entitled to any supports from the Government as we are partially open. We are looking forward to everything returning to normal “Hopefully everyone stays safe. That is the important thing.”