For Kalthoum the chance to open up a restaurant provided her the opportunity to change her life. Photo: Klaus Bo / Danish Refugee Council

The best restaurant in the refugee camp

44-year-old Kalthoum’s life in the refugee camp changed completely, when she was given a grant to start a restaurant. Now it helps the entire family get by.


In Southern Djibouti – a few hours’ drive from the nearest city – lies Holl Holl refugee camp. There is nothing around it except a red cliff-filled landscape resembling the planet of Mars. For the residents here there are almost no opportunities to find work and make money. Most of them survive on the few rations being distributed. A bit of flour, oil and beans.

This was also 44-year-old Kalthoum’s situation, when she arrived to the camp seven years ago. She was forced to flee Somalia with her family because of the war in the country. Today they all live in Holl Holl camp - Kalthoum, her husband and their six children. Life is not easy, she points out, but it has become better.


“Please come in and sit down. Welcome to restaurant Bismillah.”

Kalthoum smiles and when she does it is broad and accompanied with laughter.

“Sit, sit, you are so welcome,” she says.

Restaurant Bismillah is Holl Holl’s best restaurant, says the proud restaurateur. It is situated in the center of the camp in a small house, made out of wooden poles and plastic tarpaulin walls like the rest of the camp’s houses. Inside is a row of wooden benches.

“We built those, after we had received the grant,” she says, while her smile grows even broader.

In 2016 she was given a grant to open the restaurant by the Danish Refugee Council, through a livelihood program funded by UNHCR. The 100 dollar grant gave her the opportunity to buy the materials, which today has been transformed into restaurant Bismillah. Since then she has greeted hungry and thirsty patrons. The menu varies based on what is available.

”We have pasta and rice and tea and coffee. Sometimes we have meat, when we do we cook that as well. When there are vegetables in my garden, I use those. Pasta is very good with vegetables, but the rice is best when it is cooked with meat. But we don’t have meat very often.”


The portions can be purchased in both whole and half versions, so there are options for everyone. Half a portion of pasta or rice costs around 25 cents, a whole costs twice as much. When meat is available the price goes up to 1.5 to 2 dollars for a  full serving. But most of Bismillah’s patrons come by to drink coffee or tea. Especially the mornings are full with the regulars coming by for morning coffee and the day’s first greetings.

“We have between 10 and 25 guests a day.”

Kalthoum is very happy to be owning the restaurant, but she worries about her children, who have no future in Holl Holl, she says.

“My children cannot receive an education here. If we can go to America, they will be able to get an education. I pray for that every day.

A guest knocks on the wall by the entrance and looks into the restaurant. Kalthoum suddenly becomes busy. Once again her broad smile appears, while she boils water for more coffee. The first guests of the day have arrived to the best restaurant in the refugee camp.