Celebrating the industry of refugees on World Refugee Day

By Allyson Hawkins, 2016 Peace Fellow

Amman, Jordan: Samira, from Syria, is one of roughly 4 million refugees who have sought safety in Jordan from some of the world’s most brutal conflicts. She also a member of the Hope Workshop, a collective of 20 refugee women in Amman which teaches skills and provides emotional support to its members.

The workshop has made a big difference in the life of women like Samira, who attends regularly and has used her crocheting skills to make clothes for her family and her community. As well as providing her with a skill, crocheting has also given her purpose. “This is something I can benefit from as well as help others with the clothes I create,” she says.

Samira works on a crochet project

The Hope Workshop is an initiative of the Collateral Repair Project (CRP), which was launched in 2006 to provide services to Iraqi refugees in Jordan but has since expanded in response to the massive influx of Syrians. CRP’s distinctive name is intended to contrast with the “collateral damage” so often inflicted on civilians in today’s wars.

“CRP creates a space where [refugees] can put their creativity to use,” said Zayneb Al Asaadi, Director of Staff Development and Partnerships at CRP. “People want to be pro-active and productive.” She added that classes in computers and English are among the most popular programs offered by CRP.

As a country where nearly 1 in 3 people is a refugee, Jordan is at the epicenter of the global refugee crisis and as Europe struggles to close the door to refugees the pressure shows no sign of easing. Indeed, the burden on countries of first asylum, like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is one of the themes of World Refugee Day (June 20).

Adding to the strain, only 18% of Jordan’s refugees registered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are living in camps. The rest, like Samira, live in urban areas where aid is less accessible and they depend on family, friends and informal work.

With resources stretched to breaking point and tensions growing between Jordanians and refugees, the Jordanian government makes it hard for refugees to find work. Non-Jordanian workers are required to obtain permits from the Ministry of Labor, but this requires proper documentation and can cost up to $1,270. Unable to obtain a work permit, most refugees turn to the informal economy, where they often work in harsh conditions for little pay.

In April, Jordan’s Labor Ministry eased this policy for Syrian refugees, and waived application fees for Syrians until July 5. Those that are accepted will be issued a one-year permit to work – and official recognition. In addition, the government now allows Syrian refugees to use identity cards issued by the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR when applying for permits, instead of passports and legal proof of entry. The UN refugee agency estimates that 78,000 refugees could benefit from these new regulations.

While these moves are welcome, CRP is committed to serving the diverse community of East Amman. This includes Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, and Jordanians alike who are under extreme pressure. Neam, a Palestinian from Gaza and Hope Workshop member explained that working together builds a sense of community and solidarity:

“I attend the crochet classes and women’s empowerment…. I use the things we discuss in the sessions to resolve issues at home in my family. It has helped me see things from different peoples’ perspectives and become a mediator. I have also been able to meet and befriend people from different countries here at the center, something I had not done before.”

Neam examines jewelry produced by Hope Workshop members

CRP and the Hope Workshop are hoping to build on their success and produce embroidery for advocacy quilts as part of an initiative in collaboration with The Advocacy Project. The quilts will be assembled by expert quilters in the US and Workshop members hope they tell the story of refugees in Jordan while also bringing in an income. The Advocacy Project has launched an appeal to pay for materials.

  • Click here to donate to The Advocacy Project’s appeal on Global Giving
  • Click here for more on the Collateral Repair Project
  • Click here for the Advocacy Project’s Peace Fellow blog
  • Click here for statistics on Jordan’s refugee crisis