Paind Khan has been perfecting his biryani for months. It takes three hours to cook, plenty of garlic and a whole lot of a dedication to get it just right. In Eleonas Accomodation Site in Greece, where he lives alongside 1,500 other refugees, cooking gives him a sense of independence: “It makes me happy,” he tells us.
Having taken tips from YouTube recipes, Paind’s got big plans for his dish – it’s the first meal he’s going to cook for his wife when they’re reunited. When that will be, he doesn’t know.
“I want this to be a surprise for her,” he told us as he stirred the onions around in the pan. “She is brave, she is lovely and she loves me a lot.”
Paind hasn’t seen his wife for over 7 months. She is currently living in Germany with their son and daughter, he cannot join her unless his family reunification case has been accepted.
“I miss them a lot,” he says.
Paind and his family fled Afghanistan two and a half years ago when the Taliban threatened to kill them. “Afghanistan is not safe,” he tells us. “The Taliban threw a letter in my house that said: ‘we will kill you’.”
Fearing for his family’s life, Paind felt compelled to leave their home in search of safety. First, they fled to Iran and later, to Turkey.
“Life was hard in Turkey,” Paind says. “Not many people spoke English and I struggled to find a house and regular work.” The family kept trying to make it work for 18 months, Paind picking up some shifts at a sewing factory, but when their house was set on fire, they decided it was time to leave again.
Paind vividly describes the commotion at the border between Turkey and Greece: “When we reached the border there were two cars. Everyone was running and sitting in them. My wife and two children were going in the first car. After a couple of minutes, the car drove away, they had crossed the border but I didn’t know. I was caught by the Turkish Army.”
Around two months later, Paind managed to cross the border to Greece, but his phone was stolen, giving him no way of contacting his family.
Every day, he went to a central square in Athens looking for them and two weeks later, there they were. “It was luck that I found them,” he says.
Paind's wife and children were able to find a home in Germany as her parents are living there – but Paind must wait in Greece. His temporary home is a small white container, 24 metres wide, which he shares with four other single men. It has single beds, a kitchenette with a hob and oven, a toilet, bathroom, sink and shower. Next to him, is a container exactly the same – hundreds sit side-by-side across the site, sandwiched together with concrete paths and corrugated metal between them. Clothes, blankets and belongings bring splashes of colour and identity to each. He has no idea if and when he’ll be allowed to join his family in Germany, but for now, he takes peace from the fact that they’re safe.
Whilst he waits to be reunited, Paind’s friends try out his food: “Most of them like my cooking, but some of them… I’m not sure,” he says with a smile. With such uncertainty about his future, Paind is able to gather control and happiness from his time in the kitchen. He hopes it won't be too long before he's showing off his culinary skills to his wife.
With support from ECHO EU Humanitarian Aid, the International Rescue Committee in Greece has equipped refugees at Eleonas Accomodation Site in Athens so they are able to cook their own food and stay independent.