Refugees: The Crisis of Opportunity
"More than 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country as refugees. There are 6.1 million displaced within Syria, 50% of which are children."
For the majority of us who live far from conflict areas, facts and figures about the refugee crisis can often seem to reduce refugees into mere numbers on our screens. But we believe that it is important to remember our common humanity.
Refugees are people just like us. People from all walks of life, and within of us our unique aspirations.
More Than A Statistic
For refugees, the crisis is not only a problem of physical isolation or deprivation, but more importantly, also a state of mental torture when hopes are dashed and families are forcibly separated.
The UNHCR states that more than 70,000 Syrian refugee families live without their fathers, and thousands of refugee children are separated from both parents. Many children have endured traumatic injuries and illness due to interrupted preventative healthcare, as well as psychological trauma from the crisis.
In escaping from war and conflict, asylum seekers and IDPs have found themselves in refugee camps, with no choice but to rely on aid and are often not given the opportunity to work. Not given to the chance to be productive, many refugees find themselves in a seemingly eternal state of limbo. Forcing refugees to not work does more than hurt their dignity, it turns them resource-burdens in their host communities. This exacerbates animosity from locals towards the newcomers, and discrimination from host communities.
The Untapped Potential
However, in refugee settlements around the world, several informal economies have sprung up from the dust.
In the Za’atari camp in Jordan, refugees have created a thriving economy from scratch: from barbers and bakers, to artisans and entrepreneurs. In Uganda, refugees are often integrated and with only 1% depending fully on aid. This just shows the hidden potential of one of our world’s largest, and often untapped resource: refugees.
Like every one of us, refugees have the potential to be so much more, because it is a human instinct to be productive, to create, and to make.
It is often men that launch micro-enterprises in refugee camps.
But we have uncovered a latent resource pool comprising more than half of the camp populace.
How We’re Helping
In particular, we have learn that many Syrian women refugees possess existing skills in embroidery, sewing, and even knitting work, and are skillful enough to create high-quality craftsmanship.
In the Chatila settlement in Beirut, Lebanon, we have brought together 25 Syrian women refugees together with Tight-Knit Syria to launch Threads Of Syria. The average woman in our collective has 17 years of experience in Syrian embroidery.
Threads Of Syria launched in November last year with some small fanfare, with the aim to provide dignified economic opportunity to Syrian refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.
Our first product is the eponymous Syrian Scarf, knitted wool-blend scarves infused with a touch of Syrian embroidery. 100% of profits from Threads Of Syria are being reinvested back into the collective and the camp community.
Having the means to be economically productive does not only provide refugees with a livelihood. It does a lot for the soul, too. It instills a sense of pride in a stifling environment, a sense of progress in places where things seem to be frozen in time, and a sense of gratitude when their handmade creations are beloved worldwide.
How You Can Help
The refugee crisis is a complex, nuanced global issue, with forces at work that we often do not comprehend. But there are still several tangible ways that we can do our part to help refugees around the world - from the Middle East to Europe, to Asia and beyond.