Transformator Design & UNHCR Workshop
On May 20th, I flew out to Stockholm, Sweden to take part in a design workshop hosted by Transformator Design and the UNHCR. During this intensive 12 hour seminar, we were divided into small teams to produce design-led solutions to the humanitarian crisis affecting Northern Europe’s refugees. The day was inspired by the ‘What Design Can Do’ organisation who promote the use of design for good causes.
By gaining a better understanding of the situation facing Sweden’s refugees, we aimed to find solutions to some of their needs. We were given fundamental insights through speeches from the UNHCR and UNHCR Innovation team, and then by visiting a refugee centre in Stockholm to conduct interviews with refugees first-hand. My team, ‘The Happy Yellow Team’, consisted of six people from a variety of different backgrounds: cultural, political, economical and a refugee. I was very lucky to be paired with Mohammed for the interviews. Himself a Syrian refugee who had just received his asylum papers just a few days before, he was able to put the interviewees at ease while asking them uncomfortable questions. The stories we heard were desperate and very upsetting. However, this only proved to motivate us all the more!
Shadha’s Story – 31, Yarmouk in Syria
Shadha’s husband and four young children are currently in a Turkish refugee camp. She was forced to leave them behind six months ago, to take the perilous journey to Northern Europe in search of a new life. Back in 2011 their house in a Palestinian refugee camp called Yarmouk, situated in Damascus in Syria, was bombed. In Syrian culture there is a saying: “If a man loses his house, he loses his dignity”. So, the family had to leave and have been on the move ever since. She travelled to Greece by boat, and then over land through Hungary, Macedonia and then to Sweden by train. She arrived in Sweden a year ago, and has been granted permission to stay. She is now applying for her children and husband to be brought over to join her, but has been told that she must wait between one year and 20 months for this to happen.
The most shocking part of her story was that her youngest child is currently in a Turkish hospital with a broken leg – from the pelvis to the foot. He was caught in a bomb blast. When the boy was taken into hospital the doctors confiscated the family’s passports as a deposit for payment. The authorities are now demanding $350 for their services which must be paid by the 24th May – or they are threatening to take the family’s fingerprints so they must stay in Turkey.
Shadha’s Current Issues
Since arriving in Sweden, Shadha had worked six months as a cleaner and had attended two months of free Swedish lessons in the centre of Stockholm. However, the government only pays for a free travelcard for two months, so she can not afford to go to the lessons anymore. The food in the refugee centre is very bad, and she desperately wants to cook for herself but is not allowed to use the kitchen. When asked what her educational and employment dreams were, she could not answer. She only wanted to be reunited with her children.
Ahmed’s Story – 41, Daraa in Syria
Ahmed is lucky because his wife and three young boys are with him in Stockholm. He left Daraa when his boys were unable to attend school because of fighting in the streets, and when his nine year old began wetting himself from fear when the bombs fell. Ahmed and his family moved to his fathers town close to the border with Jordan. When it became too dangerous there, his family crossed the border to wait until the fighting stopped. They didn’t order passports from the authorities because they only expected to be in Jordan for a couple of weeks. However, while seeking refuge in Jordan the border with Syria was closed, and the troops built a fence so the family could not return to Syria.
The family then paid $3000 to smugglers to take them to Germany. They travelled to Turkey, where they took a boat to Greece. There were 57 people squashed into the small boat, and it was sinking. They lost their youngest son in the commotion. They could hear him screaming but could not find him, it turns out this was because people were sitting on him. (He now laughs when he tells this part of the story!) Once in Greece, they travelled through Hungary, Macedonia, and onwards to Germany. Upon arriving there he realised that conditions were very bad, and the authorities were struggling to cope with the sudden influx of refugees. His family were housed in a centre in Germany for two weeks, where they had to share a room with “strange men”. He feared for his family’s safety, and so they continued through Denmark to Sweden.
Ahmed’s Current Issues
They are waiting for their initial interview, but have no idea how long it will be before they are seen. They will then have to wait many more months to find out if they have been successful. Meanwhile, they must live at the refugee centre outside Stockholm, which has strict rules which are causing further stress. The food is not nutritious, but they are not allowed to use the kitchen at the centre. Two of the boys have now been diagnosed with iron deficiencies but they can not afford the vitamin supplements or food to make them better. The children are also not allowed to play in the centre, but the playground has an asphalt ground so when they fall they get hurt. The parent’s have even been ordered to lock their children in the bedrooms for making noise or running indoors!
With these shocking stories in mind, the workshop attendees returned to the Transformator office in the centre of Stockholm. They then briefed us on the idea process that they wanted us to follow: (1) Discuss our research (2) Find common themes (3) Select an issue (4) Find a solution to that issue.
The Happy Yellow Team selected the themes: Lack Of Autonomy, Lack Of Activation, Lack Of Information, Unwholesome Food, Lack Of Education / Employment, Trauma as our core issues. We decided that the overriding theme was ‘Lack Of Autonomy’, and so decided to put our heads together to find a solution to this. We wanted to give the refugees more control over their lives while waiting to hear the result of their application to remain (which can take months or even years).
Activation Boxes! We proposed that through a combination of sponsorship and crowdfunding we can find different opportunities for refugees – in the vicinity of the refugee centre. These activities could be divided into: Work, Learn, Relax, Enjoy and Exercise. Each morning the refugees at the centre can choose an activity to take part in. This could be a day of gardening, a cooking workshop, a trip to the cinema or even an educational lecture.