Nour Taleb, whose family had run a pastry shop in Albab, 40 miles north of Aleppo, since 1952, was forced to leave for Syrian capital Damascus in 2012 after heavy shelling devastated his home town – and from there, took his wife and four young children to a refugee camp in Jordan.
Now, after being resettled in Scotland last May, he has found temporary work making tiny, hand-made pastries for The Loft Cafe and Bakery in Haddington, where his products are selling at a rate of almost 600 a day.
He hopes the demand for his products will allow him ultimately to set up his own bakery in the local area.
Mr Taleb, 38, said that his family had settled well in Scotland.
“I think it did take some time [for us to settle in] but eventually we felt very happy to be here. we do not think that there is anything strange or different to us about Scotland, apart from the weather. People are very welcoming, helpful and friendly.”
He added: “I feel very delighted about being able to work here particularly that I will be doing what I am used to do back home. People here have helped us a lot so I look forward to do something useful and helpful in return and with a very humble thank you.”
Anita Leveridge, co-owner of the cafe, said that the baklava-style pastries had proved enormously popular with the cafe’s regular customers. She was initially contacted by Mr Taleb’s support worker at the council, who had spoken to Business Gateway about Mr Taleb potentially opening his own business, but had been told to test the market to find out if there was a consumer demand for the products.
She said: “We were initially going to sell his pastries in the run-up to Christmas, but they have proved to be so popular that we are going to keep going with it afterwards. He comes in in the morning with 60 boxes of the pastries, all hand-made and so delicate, with about nine pastries in each.”
She added: “We first spoke to him a few months ago, but it took a while for his home kitchen to be checked and accredited for health and safety so that he could make the pastries at home. The difference in him now compared to when we first met is amazing: he just bounds in with a smile on his face and brings different things every day for us to try. He can’t speak much English so we try them and then give him a thumbs up and he makes the pastries for the next day.
“He is such a nice guy and we are so happy we can sell his pastries in the cafe.”
All proceeds from the sale of the pastries is given directly to Mr Taleb and his family.
Car painter Moustafa Moustafa, 33, is another Syrian refugee who moved to East Lothian earlier this year with his wife and three month old baby. He now works at Tustain Motors in Haddington on a voluntary basis for four afternoons a week. “Back home in Syria, I worked in the business of car painting and polishing,” he said. “Having the chance to work here is one of the best things that has happened. All we hope for the future is a better life for our children – so that we can be as useful as possible in this wonderful country.”