Success Story: From Refugee to

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Layali

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In 2015, Layali Jafaar came to Germany from Iraq with her teenage son. To this day, she speaks little about her escape. In Iraq, Layali was a self-employed entrepreneur with a catering company. She says she learned to cook from her father, who was in the industry.

 

Upon arriving in Berlin, she experienced for the first time in her life a separation from her husband, who was persecuted as an opponent of the regime in Iraq and hid with friends for a year and a half. How Germany works, the scale of Berlin—all of this was new territory for Layali upon her arrival. She had to go through the registration process, lived in emergency accommodation until suitable housing was found, and learned an entirely new language. At least she was able to communicate thanks to her knowledge of English.

In July 2018, Layali began an internship at the restaurant Kreuzberger Himmel. After just three months, it was clear: Layali would stay. After another five months, she received an employment contract as head chef. Her son attended school and graduated with a secondary school diploma. He began training as a dental hygienist, which he has since successfully completed.

Another milestone: her husband also managed to reach Berlin after an adventurous journey. Kreuzberger Himmel, which opened in 2018, had to close during the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to Layali’s initiative, the team decided to cook meals for the homeless. “The people who live on the streets can’t collect bottles or receive donations. We have to do something,” she said at the time. What started as a small project eventually became a meal supply service providing 73,000 meals, thanks to funding from the Berlin Senate.

The reopening in 2021 posed the challenge for Layali of attracting guests again. She wrote a cookbook, which came out in 2022 and was celebrated in the press. That helped. “I didn’t want to get too fancy with the recipes. They are all easy to implement and take away the fear of Arabic cuisine and its exotic ingredients for hobby cooks,” she says. Thanks to her culinary skills, Kreuzberger Himmel is also a regular caterer at the Federal Chancellery.

Layali is a devout Muslim, wears a hijab, and prays regularly. The fact that one of her two bosses is Jewish does not matter to her. On the contrary, she has inquired multiple times about the prayer practices of Jewish people. Layali’s story is not only a success story of economic integration but also symbolizes what most of us wish for: coexistence and tolerance.

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