From refugee to generous restaurant owner

December 18, 2019

Malik and Jamila Malikzada radiate kindness and an authentic desire to enrich the community.

On December 16 2019, over 100 people gathered for the MOSAIC Refugee Settlement and Integration/I Belong Winter Celebration. Guests, many of whom are newly arrived refugees, enjoyed delicious samosas, biryani and pizza which was generously provided free of charge by Malik and Jamila’s restaurant, Jamila’s Kitchen.  

The Malikzada’s are no strangers to the refugee experience. Malik was attending the University of Kabul in 1995 when civil war broke out and his family was forced to flee. They lived in Pakistan, working odd-jobs to survive for nearly six years before being resettled to Canada. Since arrival to Canada, they have opened Jamila’s Kitchen in Coquitlam, BC. We had the opportunity to sit with Malik and discuss his journey from refugee to entrepreneurial restaurant owner. 

Q: Could you share the circumstances of how you came to Canada?

A: In 2000, Canada opened its arms to welcome us. It was one of the biggest, brightest moments of our lives to resettle to Canada.  We landed in Vancouver and the beauty of this region wouldn’t let us move anywhere else. We have now lived for 20 years in the Coquitlam, Tri-City area. 

Q: How did you become a business owner, and what motivated you to open a restaurant? 

A: That is a very interesting question. Back home, many say that what the father and parents do, and how they approach their work, dictates how they train their children’s minds. My father was a business owner and he trained us to work hard and live a life of honesty and respect. This left us motivated to open many businesses throughout our life. My wife had the vision to work hard and open a small kitchen. She has supported me for many years, so it was my turn to support her and stand by her to achieve this dream. 

Q: Would you like to share a little bit about the sign beside the front door of your restaurant? 

A: The sign says “No Money No Worries, We Love to Serve Our Community”. The idea of having such a sign outside our door was thinking: We have food available for customers to buy, but more importantly we also have food available for customers who have empty stomach and can’t afford to pay. As a human, compassion is our essential duty. To do what we can to help those that we can. It was important for us to put this sign outside our door and let people know that they are welcome and will be treated with dignity, respect and a warm meal. We want to use our capacity to help others.

Q: What is something you would like the wider community to know about newcomers with refugee background here in Vancouver?

A: First of all, I think we all need to see the power of refugees. These are people who didn’t choose to be refugees. It is the unsafe circumstances of their homeland that led them to flee their countries for their safety and the safety of their children. Within refugee populations there are doctors, business minded people, professors, bankers, chefs, accountants, doctors, all types of professionals. The abilities that exist within the refugee population needs to be utilized, as we are doing in Canada. This makes not only the small communities but the entire country successful. 

Q: Have you found Vancouver to be a welcoming community?

A: Absolutely. Every day! We see that refugees are part of the mosaic of this country. We feel able to explore our full potential. We value that here in Canada we face no criticism towards faith, religion, gender, colour, and so on so fourth. This is the beauty, the true act of welcome in Canada. 

Prepared by Alexandra Dawley, Manager – Refugee Settlement and Integration Program

Through meaningful collaboration, MOSAIC’s Refugee Settlement and Integration Program provides essential services to refugee claimants throughout Surrey, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

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