Syrian refugee women battle boredom and bad memories by making carpets

News Stories, 24 October 2013

A young refugee woman practices her new skill of carpet making on a loom at the Adiyaman camp in Turkey.

ADIYAMAN REFUGEE CAMP, Turkey, October 24 (UNHCR) After the storm of conflict and flight from war, a refugee camp offers shelter, safety, food, water and numbing boredom, days filled with little but mundane tasks.

A few women, no more than 40 in southern Turkey's Adiyaman refugee camp, lead a different life; a life first of learning, then of work. A large tent in the centre of the camp of 10,000 refugees has become a carpet-making workshop.

The project was set up by the camp management with help and money from the local municipality, which supplied looms and other equipment. Under the guidance of a Turkish teacher, the women learn the techniques of traditional carpet-making and then, within weeks, start making their own.

"Women want to work here in order not to think about Syria all the time, and about the tragic times they've faced back home," says Rula Qasim, who fled the fighting in her country more than a year ago. For months she brooded over the country and the memories she had left behind, until her mother urged her to join the workshop.

"This [work] helps us forget trauma, like losing relatives, or to stop thinking all the time about the children still in Syria. This course can offer relief," she explains.

More than relief is on offer. Warda Beitun is just 15 years old, but she's been in the workshop for almost a year and has finished two carpets. The materials are supplied by Turkish companies which take the finished carpets and sell them, in Turkey and overseas. Both Warda's carpets were sold and she was paid a percentage of the sale price.

The carpets follow traditional designs and that, Warda says, is tricky. "The most difficult part of this job is to match the motifs exactly. There are big parts of this profession that are hard to learn, it's not easy. Like placing the thread in the exact position, you must learn that. It's challenging."

The Turkish handicrafts tutor, Gamze Karayilan, doesn't try to hide the fact she and her colleagues see the job as more than teaching carpet weaving. They are not afraid to suggest to the Syrian women that the work might empower them.

"They have certain traditions," Gamze says. "From a man's point of view, the main aim for women is to have children. At the beginning we even criticized this, but that's their tradition. Here in the camp men dominate life, they look at women differently. This is a minor effort, but at least we are trying to change the culture."

The carpet workshop has recently been followed by another pilot project, sewing and tailoring for men. For the moment just 15 men are learning a new trade.

Outside, in the sandy streets of tented suburbia, boredom rules. Unlike urban refugees, they are not free to move outside the camp and therefore cannot find work during the cotton harvest. And so thousands sit, or stand and wait. There is, for them, little else to do.

By Don Murray in Adiyaman Refugee Camp, Turkey



Syrian Refugees: Rebuilding Lives in TurkeyPlay video

Syrian Refugees: Rebuilding Lives in Turkey

Adiyaman camp in Turkey hosts 10,000 Syrian refugees. Once there, the refugees start to try and rebuild their lives in a positive direction. The camp management, with help from the local municipality, has set up workshops that are giving daily meaning to the lives of the refugees.

UNHCR country pages

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Muazzez Ersoy

Muazzez Ersoy

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

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