The ongoing refugee crisis has prompted many countries all over the world to open their doors and hearts to welcome those seeking asylum from violent conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. But once asylum seekers do finally get resettled, what happens then? Many find it difficult to adjust at first, and finding work is another challenge as well.
After volunteering to help refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos — one of the first stopping points on the migrants’ treacherous journey — two Dutch designers are stepping up to help meet that challenge. Didi Aaslund and Floor Nagler of No Mad Makers are launching a project they call Bag2Work, which aims to employ resettled refugees in making sturdy rucksacks made from the materials recycled from boats and lifejackets used during the migrants’ dangerous crossing across the sea.
According to Nagler, there was an “excessive” amount of discarded plastic and rubber from the boats and lifejackets. To help divert these materials from landfill, and to give them something to use to hold their belongings for the onward trip, the designers worked with migrants to create the distinctive, angular bags. Made from one square metre of rubber sourced from boat rubber, and four lifejacket straps, which serve as shoulder straps and to seal the bag closed, the bags’ “fortune-cookie” form allows it to stand up and have maximum volume with a minimum of material.
Best of all, these bags were made in a very low-tech way; the lack of electricity and power tools on Lesbos meant that the makers had to use rivet guns instead, resulting in a durable, waterproof bag that’s sure to protect everything that’s put in it.
In light of the bags’ popularity beyond the immediate community of asylum seekers, the duo has decided to crowdfund a larger, initial production run of 500 bags, made by refugees who will be decently paid for their work. Each bag will cost USD $107, though there are other funding levels with more perks on their Kickstarter. It may not be a long-term solution for now, but the basic idea is sound: to transform ‘waste’ into something new and hopeful, and to give people who have had to give up everything a chance for gainful employment, say the designers:
It could give the refugees some autonomy back. It would give the discarded boats and life vests from Greek beaches a worthy second life. And it would give you the opportunity to carry a positive story about the refugee crisis with you, wherever you go.
Mountains of discarded materials sourced from refugees’ boats and lifejackets will be transformed into bags — by asylum seekers themselves, for a decent wage.