As humans, we crave order. For many, productive work provides this structure. The world around us might be chaotic. But with work we can, at least at times, control what we do in a way we are rarely able in other parts of life.
Yet work is a right commonly denied to the millions of refugees scattered around the world.
For decades, the discourse about refugees has treated them as a mass of passive, helpless victims. The traditional approach has sought to ‘contain’ the problem in camps close to the war-zones.
Perhaps this is acceptable in the short-term, but many refugees find themselves trapped in such camps for years; their skills neglected, their aspirations crushed. Even most of those who have made it into wealthier countries are prevented from entering the job market. This creates a dependency on aid, and denies refugees the means by which to become self-reliant.
Keeping refugees trapped in this state of helplessness means that refugees find it difficult to integrate into their host communities, feeding destructive narratives found in the media.
But this needn’t be the case. Within the challenging global context, Uganda represents a progressive alternative. Today Uganda is home to more than a million refugees who, since 2006, have been granted free movement, employment rights and access to services like healthcare and education. The results?
Only 1% of refugees in Uganda are entirely dependent on aid. Refugee relations with the native population are generally peaceful, trade between the two groups has flourished, and intermarriages occur frequently.
In their fascinating study ‘Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions’ Dr Alexander Betts and Dr Paul Collier have shown that refugees can not only contribute to host communities through buying and selling local produce, but also by creating employment. 21% of refugees in Uganda own a business employing other people, and 40% of those employees are nationals of the host country.
Having shifted from viewing refugees as potential assets rather than burdens, many organisations and governments have targeted the craft sector as a promising potential area for employment. Indeed, UNHCR estimates that 1 in 3 viable jobs for refugees is in craft production.
Not only do jobs in craft provide refugees with a regular income, they have the additional benefit of generating a sense of pride in a way few other jobs can.
Recognising the power of work in craft to make a large impact, we decided to launch the Pin Project with a coalition of likeminded NGOs and social enterprises.
Partnering with workshops in countries that host large numbers of refugees, displaced people and returnees, the money pledged to the campaign will go towards training, employment and equipment for future jewellery workshops. To support the campaign check out our Kickstarter page.
Of course craft is not alone in offering promising ways to create work for refugees. Scratch below the surface and you will find innovative projects working across all industries from language (Natakallam) and entrepreneurship (Tern) to food (Syrian Supper Club) and floristry (Bread and Roses).
Donating money is only one part of the solution. By working together, we can work it out.