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New York Gallery to display handicrafts made by Croatian refugees

News Stories, 22 July 2009

© UNHCR/A.Corluka
Some of the Tara women with the tools of their trade.

ZAGREB, Croatia, July 23 (UNHCR) Traditional souvenirs and handicrafts made by former refugees from central Croatia's mountainous Lika region will go on display next week in New York's Gallery MC.

The show in the Big Apple will be a personal triumph for the ethnic Serbian women and their Tara Citizens Association, which specializes in making high-quality woven bags, socks, clothes and scarves. The organization provides a livelihood for many and has helped to break down barriers between former foes and to provide a livelihood for many.

New Yorkers will get a unique opportunity to view and buy the work of the women of Licko Petrovo Selo village during the last two days of the "Croatian art&craft Expo," which opens tomorrow at the city's Gallery MC and lasts till the end of the month. The goal of the exhibition is to introduce exciting art works from Croatia to an American audience, and to promote Croatia as a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Tara's presence, made possible by funding from the UN refugee agency, also reflects how some people in Croatia are working to heal the wounds of the past and promote reconstruction and development in areas of the country, such as Lika, that were directly affected by the conflict of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.

Most of the villagers of Licko Petrovo Selo fled to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia after Croatian military forces invaded the area in August 1995. Many have since returned, often to find their homes damaged or destroyed.

Headed by one of the returnees, 43-year-old Sonja Leka, Tara was set up five years ago to provide returnee women in the village with an income and help them to become self-sufficient. Today it gathers 20 middle-aged or elderly women and its activities have expanded; Tara has participated in a number of reconciliation programmes, including the reconstruction of destroyed villages

"Projects like this one . . . help to create the mutual trust and confidence necessary to overcome the divisions of the past and to build a joint future," said Wilfred Buchhorn, UNHCR's representative in Croatia.

"Tara is proof of how the creativity of women can lead the whole community forward," added the articulate Leka.

Working in an area where conditions for development have long been regarded as poor or non-existent, the women of Tara are supporting the development of the local economy and tourism and creating a positive image of the returnees.

Tara's work and activities correlate with UNHCR's Women Leading for Livelihoods initiative, which promotes the economic independence and empowerment of women of concern around the world.

By Anita Corluka in Zagreb, Croatia




UNHCR country pages

Prince Soniyiki, from Nigerian to "Croatian" in three years

Prince Wale Soniyiki, 29, is the poster boy for Croatia's refugee system. When Prince (that's his real name, not a royal title) arrived here from Nigeria three years ago, he felt like a "complete nobody." Today he has a good job, speaks the language fluently and is a well-known advocate for asylum-seekers, whose voices are rarely heard in Croatian society. Prince fled Nigeria in December 2011 after a bloody terrorist attack killed his brothers. A circuitous route through Libya and Italy eventually led him to Croatia.

Croatia, which joined the European Union in 2013, has a well-functioning asylum system. But it's rarely tested because nearly all asylum-seekers and refugees move on to other European countries, partly because integration into society is not easy. Prince, though, is making a life here. Two years ago he founded "Africans Living in Croatia" to help others like him integrate and to help Croatians better understand migrants. His passionate work grabbed the attention of the owner of a tuna farming company, who offered him a job on his boat on the Adriatic coast.

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A study of the lives of three Europeans who have been living as refugees in Serbia for more than 15 years.

Serbia is the only European country with a protracted refugee population. More than 90,000 refugees from Croatia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina remain there, victims of wars that erupted after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

These long-term refugees live under appalling conditions in dingy apartments and overcrowded collective centres – the nearest thing to refugee camps in modern Europe.

This set of pictures tells the story of three displaced people, the problems they face and their hopes for the future.

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