From refugee to restaurateur: Afghan migrant making a difference with his Indian cuisine

Afghan Hazara man Hafeez Ullah says he wants to give back to the community that has supported him.

When Hafeez Ullah came to Australia in 2013 he thought only of fleeing persecution.

"I'm an asylum seeker, [I] come to Australia because my country is not safe," he said.

Just four years later he has set up his own small restaurant in the South Australian town of Naracoorte.

"[There's] more opportunity in the country compared to the city," he said.

Work experience student Alannah Johnson says his Indian-style cuisine has made a big impact in the town of just 6,000 people near the Victorian border.

"[I'd] never had Indian food before," she says. "The first time I had it, I absolutely loved it."

Mr Ullah says the lower cost of doing business in a regional area makes his venture more viable, but it wasn't just opportunity that drew him to the region.

"Naracoorte is a very lovely town, a very good, lovely community, and very supporting community."

This summer, he wants to give back to the community that has supported him, cooking up a plan to help volunteer firefighters during times of crisis. Mr Ullah learnt his cooking skills during the 15 years he lived and trained as a cook in Pakistan - where he fled from Afghanistan. 

John Probert, regional commander of the Limestone Coast Rural Fire Service, says Mr Ullah will close his restaurant to customers and focus on providing food free of charge if there is a bushfire in the region.

"Because of his business, he can't work as a firefighter but he can certainly provide food for our volunteers.  He's already supplied some meals and it's been very well received," he says.

Mr Ullah says he came up with the idea after watching weary volunteer firefighters travel more than 30 kilometres to eat lunch during a major bushfire in the Mount Gambier region in 2014.

"[It's] important, the community work, more than money, for me," he says.

"Any time they need volunteers, I work for my community. I offer to my region, the CFS, 24 hour, 7 days, 12 months... on call. Every time, I'm ready to make food for community."

Naracoorte's Mayor, Erika Vickery, says Hafeez Ulluh is one of a growing number of Hazara migrants choosing to stay and settle in Naracoorte, and migrants from overseas are helping to boost a population that would otherwise be at risk of decline.

"There was a very slight [population] decrease, but we're holding our own, particularly now we have our migrant people coming to Naracoorte."

Many come to work in the vineyards near Naracoorte, or the nearby meatworks.

Just a few years ago, Hafeez Ullah was one of those job-seekers.

Now, says the mayor, his restaurant is a valuable source of employment.

"Hafeez is really important to our community as a really active member of our community, he runs his own business here so he employs people in his business."

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