Meet the refugees who fled war-torn Syria for the besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip.

On a bustling Gaza street lined with restaurants, juice vendors and shawarma stands, one facade immediately catches the eye: A large, modernist black cube sits atop the entrance to Syriana – Arabic for ‘our Syria’.

“The rest should be here soon,” says Wareef Kaseem Hamdeo, the visibly tired chef and proprietor of the restaurant, as he sits down for his first break of the day. It is early afternoon and he has been here since early morning.
The 35-year-old Syrian left Aleppo in 2012 when the bombs of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces began falling onto the city in an attempt to stamp out the then-nascent armed resistance to his rule.
He travelled to Turkey and then to Egypt, enduring a 44-hour voyage across the Mediterranean Sea. As a seasoned chef with his own restaurant in Aleppo and a degree in mechanical engineering, Hamdeo felt confident that he would find work in Egypt.
He did. It was mostly informal employment – cooking and decorating hotels. But after two months, a Syrian who had eaten in his restaurant back in Aleppo offered him work as a chef in Cairo. A second opportunity came along to open a restaurant in Poland. Both options were tempting, but as he pondered over each one, a third emerged: a job in Gaza.
He immediately and resolutely refused. But when a Palestinian acquaintance urged him to visit, he tentatively obliged. Hamdeo fell in love with the seaside enclave. “It reminded me of Syria,” he says.
Now, three years after he first travelled through the dark, damp tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza, which are constantly at risk of collapse or flooding by the Egyptian military, his life has changed considerably: He has survived Israel’s 2014 attack on the Gaza Strip, found love with a Palestinian journalist who had interviewed him shortly after his arrival, and successfully opened his own restaurant.
In spite of this, Hamdeo feels he has to leave, and it is now or never. He reads the news and hears that relations between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and Egypt are deteriorating; he sees growing tensions with Israel and believes further trouble is looming. He is, simply, tired of war.
And he is not the only one; there are currently 54 families with at least one member who is a Syrian of non-Palestinian descent living in the besieged enclave; there are 22 families who are entirely Syrian. All want to escape.
As Hamdeo speaks, other Syrian refugees arrive and take a seat at the table.
Soon, there are six: five men and a woman. They all know each other and catch up on each other’s news and wellbeing.
“We’ve spoken to many journalists,” Hamdeo explains. “People always ask us why we came here, like it was our choice. We didn’t want to leave Syria.”
At the mere mention of their homeland, the refugees begin reminiscing. Smiling and laughing, they recall the food, the streets and the families they left behind. Each insists that the food at Syriana is impeccable: tasting it is like a ticket to Damascus, they say.
The waiter delivering these flawless recreations of Syrian cuisine beams and joins in with the collective recollection as he places the plates on the table.
“He’s one of us,” Hamdeo says
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Source: Islamic News Daily

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