Ghafoor Hussain is a British citizen who's been feeding stranded refugees in different areas of Europe since 2015. Most recently, he drove his kitchen-bus on a new mission from his home in Stockton in the UK, to the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.
It's a new take on the concept of meal-on-wheels. Ghafoor Hussain has converted a bus into a mobile kitchen and has spent the last few years feeding refugees across Europe. His missions last from 4 to 10 weeks at different camp sites. He recently spoke with InfoMigrants about his project and his plans for the future.
InfoMigrants: What made you start this project?
Ghafoor Hussain: Three years ago, I heard that 15,000 stranded refugees on the Austrian-Slovenian border were only being given a piece of bread, tinned food and some water each day. There were no warm meals, or freshly cooked food. This is when I decided that I wanted to help feed refugees and I started my first mobile-kitchen. My first mission was in 2015. I spent Christmas in Austria. After that, I went to Dunkirk in France, where I stayed for 10 weeks and cooked for 4,000 refugees. Then I heard about refugees in need of help in Idomeni, a small village in Greece near the border with the Republic of Macedonia. I drove my bus from Stockton in Britain, to Idomeni. It took me 5 days to get there. In Idomeni, I was told about the harsh conditions and malnutrition that refugees in Lesbos Moria camp were facing. That became my next stop.
How can you afford to feed thousands of people?
In the beginning, it was a self-funded project. I sold my cars and used my own savings to buy the ingredients to cook and distribute the food. It's something I started and then wanted to finish. I was not going to stop simply because of the expenses. But over time, friends started helping, and when the word got out about my project, people started chipping in and sending donations. I welcome anything they send.
Given the power of social media, have you ever resorted to crowd funding or something similar?
Yes, for my first project in Austria, we started a crowd funding site and were able to raise €15,000. It helped me to buy the coach and convert it into a mobile kitchen that can feed up to 10,000 people per day. But now, my second coach is bigger and when run on full capacity, it can feed up to 18,000 people per 24 hours.Do you have any help?
My wife and I are the main cooks. Friends started showing interest and joining me on my trips. After that, people from all over the world started contacting me on Facebook and Whatsapp and asking to volunteer. I welcome everyone.
What are some of the challenges you have had to face?
challenge in the Moria Refugee camp or Idomeni, has been that the Greek authorities do
not want anyone to help refugees. They keep moving them on and trying to
relocate them so that their lives are as uncomfortable as possible. They
also refuse any outside help or personal initiatives such as mine. The reason is that by
making the refugees' lives uncomfortable, Greek authorities want to ensure that they
won't want to stay in Greece in the long-term. They hope that by building a bad reputation for life in
the camps, the refugee influx will decrease. People won’t want to go there.
As well, international organizations are bailing out because the Greek authorities are using stifling measures to halt their work. Authorities are demanding that the funds for these organizations be cleared,and that they first be deposited in Greek banks. Every time these organizations need to make a payment, they have to ask the Greek authorities. The Greek economy has benefited massively from the refugee crisis. They do not spend a penny from their own budget. It is all EU and international aid money.
What do you think needs to be done in that regards?
Europe has to understand that the refugee crisis is a major crisis, and not simply a problem that the Greek authorities have to deal with. The EU needs to take responsibility and exert more political and diplomatic pressure on the Greek authorities to make sure that refugees are well treated. The problem is that the media is not interested in this issue anymore. Although it might be one of Europe's biggest problems, with the public not hearing much about it anymore, they think it is over, it’s not an issue anymore. That is wrong. The crisis has worsened. People are still coming in and more people have become stranded and are living in shocking conditions in camps.
Do you have anything you would like to say publicly?
Wake up! Wake up and open your eyes! At the moment, everyone is burying their head in the sand. They think the problem has passed, but that is not true. It is a global problem.
Everyone needs to take action, especially across the Arab world. When I visited some of the camps, I felt ashamed. Most of the time I am the only Muslim helping out. No one from the Arab world or the Middle East is doing anything, regardless of what religion or nationality they are, or where the refugees come from. Anyway, if you start asking what color or religion refugees are, you need to pack your bags and leave. This is about helping humanity, without discrimination. We need to look after the whole world.When asked about why he’s putting himself through all this, Hussain said that when he first started his project, he received plenty of criticism from family and friends. People also mocked him, saying that he was on an impossible quest to end world hunger, or to feed all the needy. However, this did not stop him. Ghafoor would always reply saying: "I’ve always said that my target is to feed one person a day, whether a man, women or child. So far, I've fed over 1.9 million people. My target was one person. I succeeded. It gives me huge satisfaction and happiness."