Stitching up a new life: Afghan refugees learn to support themselves in Iran

News Stories, 12 June 2009

© UNHCR/D.Faramarzi
Sewing up a secure future: Afghan refugee women in Tehran learn self sufficiency.

TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, June 12 (UNHCR) Afghan refugee Nafiseh, a 28-year-old-widow with eight children, looks up from cutting out a dress pattern just long enough to express optimism about her own future.

"Now I feel self confident. I feel I can make it, regardless of where I live," she says, barely pausing in her industrious work. "I know how to sew and can feed my children and even send my two elder daughters, who are 10 and 12, to school, when they have never studied before."

Nafiseh is one of the Afghan women benefitting from a UNHCR-funded project designed to teach refugees in Iranian cities skills that will enable them to earn their own living.

"Following a sharp drop in the number of Afghans going home from Iran, UNHCR is now focusing on finding solutions to refugees' problems here in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mainly by giving them skills training for self sufficiency," says UNHCR Representative in Tehran Carlos Zaccagnini. There are 935,512 registered Afghan refugees and another 43,916 registered Iraqi refugees in Iran, according to government statistics.

Widows with many children, like Nafiseh, are singled out to receive the UNHCR-funded training, conducted in conjunction with the Iranian Ministry of Education.

Even before her husband died two years ago, Nafiseh could never have sent her children to school on his construction worker's pay. But she is no longer an uneducated housewife depending on low wages. Thanks to orders from neighbours who admire her new skills, she is now independent and can provide and plan for her family.

UNHCR has spent US$2 million on the vocational training project since it started in 2007, and this year will spend a further US$300,000. The programme has trained nearly 6,000 Afghan refugees; last year women outnumbered men in the programme, but this year the numbers are equal.

At first, UNHCR encouraged women to sign up for non-traditional classes such as carpentry and welding, but women refugees preferred to stick with tailoring and hairdressing, while the men learn carpentry, plumbing, electric wiring, general mechanics and welding. Computer and language classes are attended by both men and women.

The UNHCR teams who regularly monitor the training centres have noted the refugees' progress. "In tailoring classes, beautiful dresses were made by the refugees, and the trainers were very impressed with the talent and perseverance of the refugees," says Roya Zargarbashi, a UNHCR programme assistant who regularly monitors the centres in Tehran, Esfahan, Qom and Ahwaz

Perhaps because Nafiseh herself is illiterate, she understands how important it is for her own daughters to attend school. She particularly wants them to have the opportunities she lost out on by marrying while still a teenager, and is very proud to be able to afford an education for her girls.

"I am happy my daughters can attend school," Nafiseh says, turning back to her pattern-cutting. "This will provide them with all the opportunities in life of which I was deprived."

By Dina Faramarzi in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Livelihoods and Self-Reliance

We help refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced people tap their potential and build a platform for a better future.

Capacity Building

Helping national authorities meet their obligations to the uprooted.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New OpportunitiesPlay video

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New Opportunities

UNHCR and partners are training scores of Syrian and Lebanese women in traditional fabric printing – helping to sustain centuries-old techniques and provide livelihoods for refugees and host communities.
Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.