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Sunday, July 31, 2016


From Boats To Bags

Published 3 March 2016


Two young Dutch volunteers in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos are teaching migrants to turn the rubber boats they arrived on into backpacks for their onward journeys. (Read the full story here.)

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A migrant boat approaches the Greek island of Lesbos. In addition to the massing of people, Lesbos is trying to cope with the tide of inflatable boats on which the migrants arrive. 

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The "disposable boats" are destroyed on arrival. Life jackets, many of which are counterfeit, also pile up on the beaches.

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In the makeshift refugee camp at Moria, material salvaged from the boats is laid out and precut on a mat. Lesbos may be the end of the road for some migrants in the camp, but two young Dutch women have come up with an idea to recycle the wreckage of this crisis and inspire young migrants.

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First, a volunteer demonstrates how to bind the material using a rivet gun. It was the first time using such a tool for many young migrants.

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For those with enough strength, it's a satisfying process. Squeeze once, twice, then brace for the *click*.

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Thirteen-year-old Raida Matar, a Yazidi refugee from Sinjar in Iraq, didn't quite have the brawn for the rivet gun, but she was impressed at the strength of the project's Dutch creator, Floor Nagler, 24.

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Floor, a 24-year-old textiles student, runs the workshop to turn boats into backpacks with her friend Didi Aaslund. Floor was in Lesbos in January watching the migrant boats arriving and heard there was a shortage of backpacks for migrants wanting to continue their journey. The Amsterdam native had an idea: “I called Didi and I said, ‘Let’s make a bag because there’s [lots] of material.’”

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Once the riveting is done, Floor instructs the migrants to turn the pouch inside out. Next step, straps.

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Straps and buckles come from the discarded life jackets that pile up on the beach on Lesbos. 

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Attaching the straps is tricky work. 

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Didi Aaslund, a Dutch volunteer who helped design the bag and runs the class with Floor, shows off her toolbelt, made from the straps of a life jacket and the material and lifeline holder of a migrant boat. 

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The classes attract a small crowd in the Moria refugee camp.

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Once the straps are attached, all that remains is to clip the buckles shut.

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And try it on!

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Thirteen-year-old Raida is now equipped for the onward journey with a bag that is very much her own. For the migrant kids stuck in the makeshift camp, the sense of accomplishment is plain to see. Nagler says “the kids are really happy when they make something themselves, they feel empowered that they can actually do something and they can have a useful object or product they can carry onwards."