From Damascas to Bex: a patissier's story

This is the story of Mahmoud Malas and his family, who escaped the war in Syria and ended up making their new home in Bex in canton Vaud. Mahmoud now works as a patissier in the nearby town of Montreux. (Julie Hunt/swissinfo.ch)

In 2011, a peaceful uprising against the Syrian president turned into full-scale war. Mahmoud Malas, his wife and three children, lived in the capital, Damascas, where Mahmoud worked as a confectioner. Several of his acquaintances were killed in the fighting and his neighbourhood was closed off to outsiders.  There was no electricity, no internet, no gas for cooking, limited water supplies, and food became very expensive. Schools were closed. In 2013 the family decided to flee.

Setting out for Sweden, they travelled via Lebanon and Egypt. From there, they crossed the Mediterranean in a boat packed with 150 people, spending nine days at sea. After arriving in Sicily, they continued to travel north, but were stopped by police on the Italian/Swiss border and sent to an asylum seekers' centre in Bex in western Switzerland, where they now have a small apartment. Mahmoud's family's asylum requests were turned down but it is considered unsafe to send them home, so they are allowed to stay here provisionally. They received ‘F’ residence permits. 

Mahmoud was desperate to find work, and, together with his wife, Hana Kaouardi, organised parties in Bex, where he could present his pastries. His work was noticed by a Tunisian businessman, who was about to open a café with a Middle East flavour in Montreux. He hired Mahmoud to make the pastries. Mahmoud and Hanna now work part-time in the ‘Damas’ café, where swissinfo.ch caught up with them.

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