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NEW DELHI: At a bright workshop in New Delhi, a group of female artisans surrounded by pieces of colorful fabric, stitch dolls and accessories to earn a livelihood from recycled fashion waste.

A large map of Afghanistan on the wall behind them acts as a reminder of the homeland they fled and do not know when they will be able to see again.

The workshop belongs to Silaiwali, a social eco-friendly enterprise founded in 2018 by French designer Iris Strill and her Indian husband Bish Moitra with the twin objective of helping Afghan refugee women stay afloat and finding a way to upcycle waste fabric from fashion houses, which normally would end up in landfills.

The company is certified by the World Fair Trade Organization and sells handicrafts at shops in 25 countries and online.

Thirty Afghan refugee women are based at the Delhi workshop.

“Most of these Afghan women already were into embroidery, stitching, and other artisanal activities and had some basic training from their homes, when we met them,” Moitra told Arab News.

“Their skills were further polished into preparing marketable products by finetuning their craft through a little training given by Iris.”

There are approximately 15,000 Afghan refugees in India, most of them living in and around the capital city. But since India is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, they are not allowed to take up any regular jobs.

The Afghan women working for Silaiwali earn between $250 and $350 a month — a sum that helps them and their families in their daily expenses.

Stuffed fabric toys are made by Afghan refugee women at a workshop run by social enterprise Silaiwali in New Delhi. (AN Photo)

When the company started, it employed around 130 Afghan women. Most of them have already relocated to Canada with their families, and now 30 remain, also hoping to migrate.

Mozghan Gawhary, 26, has been living in Delhi with her sister since 2018. They are waiting for their parents to join them. They would like to migrate together to Canada, which has been accepting Afghan refugees following Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban in 2021.

Gawhary is a computer science graduate from the University of Kabul, but she cannot find a proper job that would be related to her education. Stitching dolls, animal toys, and Christmas decorations, gives her some sense of stability.

“Despite being educated and degree holders, we are unable to get regular jobs in India as we don’t have Indian identity cards. We just get our stay visa extended every year,” she told Arab News.

“Our cousins, (parents) and grandparents are in Afghanistan, and we talk to them on the phone, as they can’t visit us, and we can’t go back there.”

For Nahid who has been living in India since 2012 and is raising her three children all by herself, working at Silaiwali is a way to make ends meet.

“Expenses are too much but we are managing,” she said, as she prepared cotton stuffing for toys.

The stories of her colleagues are similar.

Shekiba Ahmed, 45, traveled to India with her husband and five kids in 2013. Her husband does not work, and it is her and her elder son who are the family’s breadwinners.

She makes around 40 dolls a month and 15 animal toys to scrape by and while life is tough, she knows that at least her daughters can get an education in India. Back home, the Taliban have barred girls from school.

“My daughters can be educated here, which is not possible in Afghanistan,” she said.

“Me and my children feel safe here.”

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