Former asylum seekers win Cork Persons of the Month award

Former asylum seekers win Cork Persons of the Month award

Manus O’Callaghan, award organiser; Izz and Eman Alkarajeh, Cork Persons of Month; and George Duggan, Cork Crystal. The couple now run a popular cafe after leaving direct provision in Cork with their four children. Picture: Tony O’Connell Photography

A Palestinian/Jordanian couple granted political asylum in Ireland have become the latest winners of a Cork Persons of the Month award.

Izzeddeen 'Izz' Alkarajeh and his wife, Eman, overcame huge odds moving to a new country, a new city, learning a new language, and spending time in direct provision to build a very successful new life and business here.

Their food and restaurant business, which serves traditional Palestinian cuisine, is now being celebrated by Cork’s top foodies as well as national food critics.

Izz moved to Saudi Arabia from Palestine in 1999 to find work after he graduated from university with a degree in Computer Science. There he met Eman, who is originally from Jordan. 

In 2005, they applied to return to Palestine with their family. But because Eman did not have civilian status in Palestine, and as Izz’s contract in Saudi Arabia was coming to an end, this put enormous pressure on the couple to find someplace where their family could live together.

Originally, the couple applied for a skilled immigration visa to Canada, but the age requirements were changed before they had received their visas.

It was at this point that Izz and Eman came to Ireland and applied for asylum, which took a year to be granted. They spent time in direct provision centres in both Dublin and Cork while they waited for their application to be processed.

While in direct provision, Izz completed a ‘start your own business’ course, and although he had experience working in the IT sector, he felt that there was an appetite for Palestinian food in Cork.

Eman, who trained as an interior designer in Jordan, had been cooking traditional food since childhood.

Their continued success at farmers' markets led to their decision to open Izz Café, serving the people of Cork with traditional Palestinian food.

“Cork has proved itself a city of sanctuary, a place of welcome and safety for people of migrant origin like ourselves," said Izz. "Being in direct provision was challenging for our family, but we are happy to have met some amazing people who have made Izz Café possible."

They have supplied free meals to healthcare workers during Covid-19 crisis. The couple will be featured on RTÉ's Nationwide on Wednesday at 7pm.

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