Malmö: The Swedish city where Syrian refugees and hipsters have bonded over food | The Independent

A good integration news story from Malmo for a change:

The main square of Malmö’s alternative Möllevången district bursts with colour on Saturdays. The open-air market is in full force; fulsome purple aubergines are stacked proudly next to emerald fronds of coriander and stallholders complain about the weather with friends in foreign tongues. This cosmopolitan corner of Malmö has transformed in recent years from a working class area to a radically multicultural district, where hipsters and refugees rub shoulders. It’s also a hub for some of the most authentic Syrian food outside of Syria.

In 2015, at the peak of the crisis in Syria, Sweden took in more Syrian refugees per capita than any other European country. Of the 163,000 refugees who arrived there in 2015, 32,000 were granted asylum and many of those chose to come to Malmö, where there was already a growing Middle Eastern population.

Shamiat was the first Syrian restaurant in Malmö, founded on 1 October 2013. I visit the branch in Bergsgatan, five minutes from the square. Inside, owner Maurice Salloum twirls the ends of his handlebar moustache ruminatively as his staff lay out a feast of mezze. Salloum arrived in Malmö in 2012, at the start of the civil war, and it took him 18 days to get to Sweden from his home in Damascus. Last year Shamiat was named best Middle Eastern restaurant by a local newspaper. It was the cementing of Salloum’s place in this new city.

“I was feeling fantastic,” he says. “I was very happy and proud that the Swedish people have accepted me to be here in this country”. But he still worries that not all Swedes have accepted the migrant population. There was a terrorist attack in Stockholm in April, perpetrated by a rejected asylum seeker from Uzbekistan who announced his sympathy with Isis. “This made me very sad,” says Salloum, “I baked bread that day and went out there to give the bread away for free.”

Salloum decided to open his restaurant because he saw a gap in the market. The name of the restaurant means “Damascene,” and is also a name for a dish which is only found in Damascus.

“Before we came, there was no Damascene food available in Malmö, so we work hard to give customers something special and unique,” he adds.

I try the fattoush, a salad of roughly chopped leaves, pepper wedges, olives and fried flatbread, drenched in pomegranate syrup. “It’s a very nice, typical dish, a bit like tabbouleh,” says Salloum. It is sharp and sweet and rustic – and nothing like tabbouleh.

The trend for Middle Eastern cuisine was first brought to Malmö by Lebanese and Turkish immigrants, who created the foundations of a food scene that, in turn, helped the Syrian restaurants to flourish here.

Down the road on Baltzarsgatan 21 is Laziza, a modern Lebanese restaurant whose bountiful buffet food attracts 300 customers a day. The owner, Sadoo Iskandarani, says his grandfather opened up the very first falafel place in Malmö.

“He was my idol,” he says. “He was good with bread and falafel. In the Nineties he started a cart selling falafel in Helsingborg and people loved it. The teachers came to eat there and the police officers came, then maybe 20 bikers would come and stand in line, queuing for falafel.

“I think Malmö has the best of all the cultures that live here and that food is building the bridges between the cultures.”

The most recent addition to Malmö’s Syrian restaurant scene is Ayam Dimashq, which roughly translates as “Days of our life in Damascus”. It’s north of Möllevången, on the borders of the Varnhem and Carolikvarteren districts, on Östra Förstadsgatan.

Chef-owner Huni Awwad opened it just nine months ago. He came to Sweden four years ago, when he was 39. Unlike many of the younger men who move to Sweden from Syria, Huni was already well-established with his own large, successful restaurant back in Damascus, called Peacebird.

Ayam is beautifully designed, with a modern, geometric logo and tapestries depicting landmarks and streets in Damascus, with small details picked out in gold thread.

“Everything’s coming together fast here,” says Huni. “In my country everything is a little bit slower, but I come here, open a restaurant, get married and have a boy – and I have another boy on the way – all in four years!”

He came here by boat; it took him five attempts.

“I don’t know why I made it on the fifth attempt but I thought to myself, ‘I can’t turn back this time. I might die, but I can’t turn back. ’Luckily I am here, so it’s good.”

His fattah is a warm blend of pureed chickpeas, yoghurt and sesame, with soft pieces of flatbread melting underneath. It’s topped with toasted cashews, pomegranate seeds, fried strips of flatbread, pine nuts and sprinkled with sumac. The flavours are beautiful.

Awwad’s life seems to have fallen into place here, but the move from Syria was a necessity, not a choice. He works a long day; it’s Ramadan and Midsummer, so he’ll stay open until 4am for his Muslim customers to break their fast.

“It is very hard when you change your whole life,” he says. “It is a good life here, very good, people are very nice and I think my life here resembles my life in Damascus – but it is not my life. My heart is in Damascus.” He looks up at the wall-hanging depicting a winding cobbled street lined with ancient buildings. “I hope one day to walk these streets again, and taste the food of home.”

Source: Malmö: The Swedish city where Syrian refugees and hipsters have bonded over food | The Independent

Impressions from Copenhagen and Malmö Integration Seminars

Last week’s integration seminars in Copenhagen and Malmö gave me a better appreciation of European debates on integration and multiculturalism (an updated version of my deck with 2016 citizenship numbers is Integration, Diversity and Inclusion – Copenhagen April 2017).

While the two seminars had different participants – Copenhagen included members of the diplomatic corps, officials involved in integration issues and academics from the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen, Malmö had only academics, mainly Masters and PhD students – common themes and discussion points emerged. Both events were well attended: between 50-60 in Copenhagen and 25-30 in Malmö.

My pre-reading highlighted just how different Denmark and Sweden’s national policies on integration and multiculturalism are, one reflected in both the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) and the Multiculturalism Policy Index (MPI), with the two countries largely at opposite ends of the spectrum. At the municipal level, however, the differences are less clear-cut.

None of the participants in both locations could explain how and why this difference emerged, given that on most other issues both countries have broadly comparable policies and outlooks. Some possible factors mentioned Sweden’s self-perception as a large country compared to Denmark’s being small compared to its earlier history, and thus possible greater societal insecurity. Moreover, Sweden has more urban centres, where diversity is more a fact, whereas Denmark is largely rural save for Copenhagen. But these were cast more in the nature of possible hypotheses, and there appears to be sensitivity, at least among academics, to probe more deeply into the differences.

The Copenhagen event, hosted by the Embassy and the Centre for Migration Studies, was part of the government’s agenda of promoting the Canadian approach to diversity and inclusion (Malmo was in part a follow-on activity to the Governor General’s earlier visit but was self-funded).

As Global Affairs Canada looks at different approaches to meet this commitment, ranging from the symbolic (e.g., this resolution tabled at the UN’s Human Rights Council, The Power of Inclusion and the Benefits of Diversity), high level dialogue (e.g., more senior level engagement like the GG’s messaging in Sweden) or working level (which I would characterize this event as being), I think it is important to emphasize sharing experiences, not promoting models, with some humility in how we approach such discussions.

After all, as I emphasized in both seminars, each country’s geography, history, demographic mix is unique. While we can and should learn from each other,  models and approaches cannot be easily transplanted or applied.

Some of the more interesting comments and observations, at least to me, were:


Immigration and related debates (integration, citizenship and multiculturalism) are largely only viewed through a refugee lens, with little public debate or discussion on what appears a need for skilled immigrants to meet labour shortages. Ironically, there is some recognition in rural areas regarding the contribution immigrants make to the sustainability of rural centres (examples of immigrants from Eastern Europe were cited). This recognition, however, did not translate into any nuance in Danish political debates, where neither rural or business community needs were generally raised, and where all nine political parties hold the same position and focus on refugee issues.

There was considerable discussion of values, which are the important ones and what are the friction points (gender equality being the one most signalled). Some participants were perplexed by Canadian use of the term visible minorities and how it is defined (Denmark does not systematically collect comparable data.)


Some of the questions and comments of particular interest included:

How does private sponsorship of refugees work? What is the comparative evidence on how well private vs government sponsored refugees integrate, and over what period of time. Some noted that Sweden’s focus on equality made it difficult to discuss and implement what would be perceived as a “two-tier” system.

Participants noted that like Denmark, immigrants were welcomed in rural areas given their contribution to the local community’s sustainability.

There was an interesting exchange on possible tipping points on reasonable accommodation issues and how these are resolved – or not – through public discussion or, as more likely, through practical accommodations in the various public and private institutions.

An equally interesting question and exchange was with respect to definitions of social cohesion and social inclusion, where I noted that it was largely a question of emphasis: social cohesion stressed expections, social inclusion put more weight on accommodation, but both occurred within the same legal and general framework.

Also raised was the question of “disadvantages” of multiculturalism which led to some discussion about diaspora politics and how foreign policy becomes influenced by homeland concerns.

My observation that in many ways, the citizenship program was “broken” prompted a question (provoked but not planted!) asking for an explanation of how so (i.e., under-resourcing and under-management leading to periodic processing backlogs, recent changes that have resulted in a decline in applications, leading to a decline in the recent naturalization rate).


Integration Presentations in Denmark and Sweden

No blogging this week as speaking on the Canadian approach to integration at a seminar organized by the Canadian Embassy and the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen Wednesday and the Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare Friday.

It has been fun to put together this deck, updated with 2016 citizenship data, which tries to show how the various elements – immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism – work together to facilitate integration.

Given some difficulties I had reconciling data sets, Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program data is only up to 2015.

The pdf version can be found here: Integration – Copenhagen April 2017.