In recognition of World Refugee Week (19-25 June 2023) we wanted to highlight the inspirational stories of our Refugee Artisans. The UN defines a refugee as:
‘A person who has been forced to flee their country of origin due to conflict and/or persecution and is unable to return.’
This simplistic explanation does not do justice to the reality of life for the world’s estimated 108 million refugees, 16 million of whom reside in the countries of the Middle East. A refugee’s story is one of displacement; loss of home, place, possessions, culture, identity, loved ones, belonging, community, income and security.
However, for refugee artisans, there is a redemption element in their stories. Their powerful creativity and hope allow them to build new lives, communities and livelihoods in their new locations, connecting with other skilled craftspeople through their art. Often their designs and products reflect their significant cultural heritage and their creative skills have been honed and passed down through generations. By creating product to sell, refugee artisans can continue to connect with and express their unique cultural heritage and identity whilst also crafting a new life for themselves and their communities.
Meet our top 5 Refugee Artisans whose products are currently available for you to own via our webshop:
The Surif Women’s Cooperative was first established in 1950 to support refugees from the 1948 Nakba. What began as the Palestinian Needlework Program has grown into a fairtrade co-operative providing employment and empowerment for more than 400 women in the harsh and challenging environment of Surif Village, which lies alongside the Green Line (1949 Armistice Line separating the West Bank and Israel) in the hilly region between Bethlehem and Hebron.
Dawlat, who works as an embroidery instructor, explains,
‘Because of the Separation Wall, our men can no longer enter Israel for work and families are struggling to meet their basic needs. Women in the refugee camps have tried to find work locally.’
Dawlat, a refugee herself, has been training women in embroidery for 10 years, she highlights the intricacy of the work involved, explaining that a pattern that uses one ball of thread will take about 2-3 days to complete. Dawlat is proud of each of the artisans in her team,
‘They are driven by the need to make a living and their love of heritage.’
Dawlat’s hope for Surif is that the global market for their products expands.
‘People would like our heritage because it is a perfected artisan work.’
Add a piece of Palestinian heritage to your home today:
Muhra Jewellery is handcrafted by Syrian refugee women, rebuilding their lives in Istanbul – every bead threaded, sheet of brass hammered and accessory designed is empowering them to reclaim their place in society, build a better future for their families and earn a fair wage using their creative talents and ambitious vision.
It is not only beautiful jewellery that Muhra is producing but also a beautiful family and support network for all involved. Marwa, one of the craft co-ordinators, puts it like this,
‘In the process, a community has formed that we have not known since our previous lives.’
Read our full Muhra blog here
Adorn yourself with Muhra’s exquisite Quill Earrings
‘Yadawee’ is the Arabic word for ‘Handmade’ – every item produced by Yadawee artisans is created by hand using traditional techniques such as handloom weaving with Egyptian cotton, Screen-printing and Egyptian Basketry with palm and banana leaves. Both local and refugee artisans come together in craft co-operatives based in different communities across Egypt, learning and utilising different traditional crafts to create exquisite accessories and homeware.
Some have created ingenious ways of working with the materials they have available!
Like all the co-operatives we work with, Yadawee fosters a supportive and encouraging community amongst its artisans and ensures that fairtrade practices are upheld for all workers.
Treat yourself to:
Mei Hayashi, originally from Japan, moved to Jordan in 2008 and founded Tribalogy. Mei is an experienced high-end fashion designer and was all too aware of the increasing demand for fast and cheap textile products which has been steadily bringing traditional cultural handicraft techniques to extinction.
Determined to help turn this tide whilst also bringing relief and renewal to both local and refugee artisans living in Jordan, Mei began seeking out women in disadvantaged local communities who either possessed traditional embroidery skills or were keen to learn them. Taking the traditional Palestinian embroidery technique of Tatreez, Mei and the women of Tribalogy create stunning contemporary products with their roots firmly in Palestinian heritage.
Tribalogy are committed to using exclusively locally sourced materials, so they continue to have a wider positive impact on the local economy in Jordan.
As Mei testifies,
‘Our project helps these women to step up from poverty and create a better tomorrow for themselves and their precious families, which in return will bring a better tomorrow for all of us.’
Almeda (name changed to protect identity) is a Syrian refugee working in embroidery at Tribalogy. She says,
‘We want to thank sister Mei for providing refugee women an opportunity to work from our homes. Life was very beautiful in Syria, I worked as a tailor. When the crisis happened, we came to Jordan to protect our children. We hope to continue working with Mei. If we get the chance to return to Syria, we want to take her with us!’
Own a unique hand-embroidered accessory today:
In their own words, Artisan Links,
‘empower women in marginalized communities by helping them gain economic security and encouraging them to exploit their artistic expertise. By translating traditional embroidery techniques into contemporary designs, we develop exquisite hand embroidered accessories. We believe in the importance of cultural preservation, which is why you’ll find that our embroidery makes use of various intricate techniques such as Kandahari.’
Razima is just one of the talented refugees who produces embroidered items as part of the Artisan Links team. To escape the war in 1988, Razima, at age 15, migrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan. She stayed at Baghicha refugee camp, later marrying a security guard. They settled in Peshawar and had 9 children. Unfortunately, her husband had an accident leaving him paralyzed and unable to work. Razima, turned to her embroidery skills to provide for her family, including her husband’s medical expenses. Artisan Links support and inspire women like Razima to use their skills and become sole providers for their families.