Refugee crafts take centre stage at world's biggest trade fair

by UNHCR | UNHCR
Thursday, 8 February 2018 07:12 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

FRANKFURT, Germany – Upcycled soft furnishing, bold jewellery, intricately embroidered bags. Just a few of the goods ready to go on sale this weekend at a leading trade fair in Germany. But these are not ordinary craft products. For the refugee artisans who made them, they could prove the key to building a new life in safety.

Supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, displaced craftspeople from 11 nations across the world are due to present their products at the annual Ambiente fair, which runs 9-13 February in Frankfurt, Germany.

Violence and persecution forced the artisans to flee their homes in countries as diverse as Burundi, Mali, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Myanmar.

On reaching safety in a number of host countries around the world, all of them were keen to continue practicing their traditional skills to make a living – which is where MADE51 came in, a new initiative of UNHCR and partners.

"With this work, I felt that I was born again."

Seeing the need for work opportunities among the refugee population worldwide, MADE51 seeks to connect talented displaced artisans with outlets for their goods.

At a time of unprecedented displacement, with 22.5 million refugees hosted in 130 countries, MADE51 recognizes the opportunity that lies within refugee artisans and craftspeople.

Working closely with social enterprises in host countries, the project supports refugee artisans producing fashionable, up-to-date goods ready for sale.

Through its partners, MADE51 helps guarantee an international market for the goods, connecting the displaced artisans to viable supply lines, such as this weekend's fair in Frankfurt.

Visitors to the fair will be able to view the collection and place orders directly through the local social enterprises that support the refugee groups.

"Within each piece lies a story of history and culture."

All MADE51 artisans are paid a fair wage – whether they reside in Burkina Faso, Jordan, Thailand or Afghanistan. But for many, creating and selling their own handmade wares means so much more than financial independence.

"With this work, I felt that I was born again," said a displaced Syrian artisan working with Waste Studio, an upcycling firm in Lebanon that turns advertising banners, tire inner tubing and seatbelt material into bags, accessories and furniture.

The project also ensures a market for products made using traditional techniques that might otherwise be lost, from basket weaving and leather curing, to knotting rugs or hammering bronze and copper by hand.

"Refugees have skills and talents that only need a chance to grow and flourish," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. "Within each piece lies a story of history and culture, and the chance for a person who has fled war and persecution to offer something of beauty and style to the world."

"It is only through sales that these refugee artisans will be able to employ their skills and earn income. By including refugee-made products in their sourcing plans, retailers and brands have a vital role to play. They can be part of the solution."