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World Refugee Festival Brings The Culture Of New Immigrants To New Haven

Brendan Capuano
Zainab from Iraq at Sanctuary Kitchen in New Haven. At right is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert called a kanafeh that she made this week, and will be making for Saturday's World Refugee Day Festival.

This Saturday, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, IRIS, is celebrating World Refugee Day with a food festival and concert in New Haven. One of the chefs invited reporters into her home to get a taste of what she will be serving on Saturday.

Zainab is a refugee from Iraq so she’s not sharing her last name. Today she is all smiles, surrounded by friends, family, reporters and... dessert.

She describes the sweet orange pastry that is placed in front of us.

“Cheese and um...kanafeh is a shredded phyllo dough and you put sweet cheese and cream? Yeah, cream, cream in the filling and it’s layered. Oil. Oil or butter, ghee? Oil and butter.”   

Credit Brendan Capuano / WSHU
The kanafeh is served to guests with tea and today, also a plate of bananas.

Zainab is one of the cooks at Sanctuary Kitchen, a non-profit where local refugees teach classes about their own culinary traditions.

“Her classes have been sold out and very popular,” says Sumiya Khan, who works with Zainab at Sanctuary Kitchen. Khan explains what Zainab will serve on Saturday.

“She's making this kanafeh and then also, it’s called burek, it’s a rolled pastry with spinach and cheese.”

Ann O’Brien from IRIS was also at Zainab's home. O’Brien says IRIS has turned the festival into a rally, free to attend. It's a response to the federal government’s zero tolerance policy of detaining asylum seekers at the border.

“World Refugee Day is about celebrating the fact that humanity welcomes those who are persecuted, we do not turn them way,” O’Brien says.

“In my religion, we believe a home that welcomes visitors is a blessed home, and that is what America is.” That’s Miriam Kazadi. She’s 16, was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but grew up mostly in refugee camps.

Credit Brendan Capuano / WSHU
Kazadi will be speaking at a planned rally, one of the events at Saturday's festival.

Now Kazadi is a member of the young refugee leader program at IRIS.  

“I want to fight, I want to, I know many people, like, have gone through what I have gone through, and they haven't got the chance that I have got the chance, so I want to be an immigration attorney to help people to have a new life to stand for people who have been persecuted in their country,” Kazadi says.

She and her friends will be hosting a rally at Trinity Church on the Green following the food tasting.

Kazadi will be speaking about her experience as a refugee, which has inspired her dream of becoming an immigration lawyer.

America is not just for Americans, everybody is allowed to make their American dream,” Kazadi says.

Tickets for the food tasting can be purchased here. The rally and concert are free for all to attend, Saturday, 2-6 p.m. at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven.