Lifebelt of care and hope

New Minsk tailor’s shop — employing refugees from Afghanistan and Iran — sews bed linen, napkins and tablecloths, while staff jointly celebrate holidays and share culinary secrets

By Yekaterina Medvedskaya

Farida Kasim works at the World of Comfort tailor’s shop, as a cutter. She loves to sew, although, in her native Afghanistan, she was a teacher rather than a seamstress. “Life does not ask us what we’d like to happen,” Farida muses. She believes grumbling to be a waste of time; it’s better to accept life as it is.

When war broke out in Afghanistan, Farida had no doubt where to go, as her husband had studied in Belarus, having friends here. “Your country has become a true second home to us,” she admits. “Our daughters grew up here, attending a nursery alongside Belarusian children.” Farida’s elder daughter, Lina, now works at Minsk’s branch of the Red Cross Society, while Nila is a university student, dreaming of becoming a TV host. Farida would love to finally move into a flat of her own. “Each move is like fleeing again, however small,” she admits sorrowfully. “I’m dreaming of a peaceful life...”

Another seamstress, Shaima Khabibula, has come from Iran. In fact, she is qualified as a doctor and hopes to one day return to her favourite profession. At present, her husband has no job and their five children are too young, so the World of Comfort is a lifeline.

The World of Comfort is a social enterprise, established by the International Public Charitable Organisation of Afghan Refugees — Afghan Community. It aims to support those facing tough times rather than making a profit but business principles are applied. “From the very first moment, we were looking ahead, as people need jobs not only for a couple of months,” Director Ilyaz Safi tells us. “Tablecloths and bed linen are already widely available on the Belarusian market, so there is no great demand. However, buyers like to find something a little unusual, especially at an attractive price. Taking this into consideration, our brand uses original designs. We buy pure cotton from a Baranovichi plant (in the Minsk Region), and decorative materials from Mogilev. Importantly, our prices are lower than those offered by other producers.”

Just 12 people are employed by the venture, with Belarusians accounting for half of the staff and the others being refugees. “Having refugees work alongside local residents helps them adapt and integrate,” believes Safi Saifurakhman, the Chairman of the International Public Charitable Organisation of Afghan Refugees — Afghan Community. “Although the women speak different languages, they quickly find mutual understanding and common interests.” Moreover, all employees jointly celebrate national holidays — both Belarusian and Muslim. “Our children and husbands attend them,” says Farida. “We are like a large friendly family.”

More refugees are soon to be employed, after the New Year celebrations, to help the World of Comfort achieve its larger plans. “We’ll be gradually mastering the Belarusian market, and will attempt to export to foreign markets” says Mr. Safi. “We need to justify the money being injected into the enterprise.” Equipment has been purchased with financial help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “People receive jobs and, accordingly, can earn money for a living,” stresses the Programme Officer at the UNHCR Office in Belarus, Tatiana Selivanova. “In future, some of the generated revenue will be used for business development, while the rest will be used to raise salaries and create new jobs.”

The UNHCR Office is currently running a tender to choose the best project to help refugees in Belarus find employment or set up their own business. Business proposals are being accepted from all citizens with refugee status, with financial aid provided to the winner, to help them realise their idea.

The MT’s reference:
As of October 1st, 2011, 833 people from 13 countries had refugee status in Belarus, with most coming from Afghanistan: 590. Others comprise Georgians, Tajiks, Azerbaijanis, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Iranians, Indians, Armenians, Iraqis, Cameroonians, Liberians and Rwandans.

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