Textile workshop patches dreams of refugees

By Tülay Canbolat

A shirt-manufacturing workshop in the western city of İzmir offers a chance to start over with a new job and income for refugees in Turkey along with disadvantaged Turkish citizens.

Set up by the Turkish Red Crescent, the workshop brings together Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees, along with refugees from various African countries and locals. It is one of the prominent charity's many projects to rehabilitate victims of conflicts who took shelter in Turkey, to help them socialize and integrate into society. Launched a few years ago with a few sewing machines and less than a dozen rolls of fabric, the workshop reached out to thousands of people in a short time, providing jobs and incomes for refugee families and impoverished Turks.

While they learn how to sew shirts, refugees are also taught Turkish to help them adapt to their new life in İzmir, a city situated on the shores of the Aegean Sea, a gateway to Europe for many illegal migrants. Refugees, either fleeing wars or poverty, chose to stay "in this place where we can rebuild our lives," as one refugee in the workshop put it. Some 21,000 people, from victims of conflicts to Turkish drug addicts, found jobs after attending the workshop to start their lives over. Some went on to set up their own small textile businesses. The local governorate and a chamber of textile businesses endorsed the project that later expanded to new vocational training programs, from hairdressing to agriculture, computer literacy to jewelry design to welding and such.

"I forget every pain I suffered and found a new family here," Siba, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee woman, one of the participants in the workshop, said. "I came here to learn how to sew, but I also healed my spirit. I learned Turkish too and am now experienced enough to set up my own business," said Siba, who fled the ongoing civil war in Syria. Mustafa, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee said he was able to support his family by sewing shirts. "Turkey gave us a new life, hope and bread," he said.