“MUUT” wooden tableware made by refugees. The sense of accomplishment in manufacturing is a source of confidence to overcome difficulties.

muut

The Russian-Ukraine crisis that began in 2021 and the Sudanese conflict that intensified in April 2023 have led to various media reports in Japan about refugees.

According to the official website of the United Nations Association for UNHCR, the number of people forced to flee their homes due to persecution, conflict, and human rights violations will total approximately 108.4 million by the end of 2022. This means that more than 1% of the world’s population, or 1 in 74 people worldwide, have been forced to flee their homes.

In addition, most of the countries hosting refugees are low- and middle-income countries, and it is very difficult to secure employment for refugees when the employment of their own citizens is not stable. In the case of Jordan, which has hosted many refugees, the unemployment rate among Jordanian citizens has already reached approximately 20-23%. The unemployment rate for Syrian refugees is even higher, almost double that of Jordanian citizens. The harsh reality is that about 78 percent of Syrian refugees living outside refugee camps live below the poverty line.

Many restaurants and hotels have recently been working on sustainability initiatives such as reducing food loss, disposable plastics, and energy conservation, but there are still few examples of how they are working to support refugees.

In this interview, we spoke with Nozomi Ohashi, representative of qaraq Inc., which operates the wooden tableware brand “MUUT,” which aims to bring jobs to refugees living in the Middle East.

Using the olive tree, “a symbol of peace”, we offer products that can be used for a long time.

muut (mixture of wool and tungsten)

MUUT tableware made of olive is produced in the company’s own workshop in Amman, the capital of Jordan in the Middle East.Because every process is done by hand, each piece is characterized by a warm finish with its own differences.

Currently, five people, including refugees from Syria and Iraq, are working in MUUT’s workshop, and everything from the purchase of wood to the finishing of products is done in the company’s own workshop. They use old trees and pruned olive logs from the north of the country, where many olive farmers are located.

muut (mixture of wool and tungsten)

Ms. Ohashi said, “Olive trees grow slowly over time and are hard and strong due to their high density. The unique grain of the wood is also a characteristic of the olive tree. However, due to the nature of wood, distortion inevitably occurs during use, and in order to minimize such distortion, MUUT tableware is particular about carefully selecting the right materials and polishing the finish.

In our workshop, we coat them with oil and beeswax to prevent discoloration, but if you are concerned about discoloration, you can apply olive oil to them yourself to restore their texture. Depending on how you use it, it can last for decades.”

I want refugees to learn how to live in the future.

muut (mixture of wool and tungsten)

MUUT staff and Ms. Ohashi (right) at the workshop in Jordan.

According to Ms.Ohashi, the employment of refugees at MUUT has various implications beyond just making things and earning wages.

Ms. Ohashi: “Many refugees are very persevering because they have experienced many hardships, but there are also people who have no experience working because of the chaotic situation they live in. Although this may be a common practice for Japanese people, we want them to experience and learn ‘how to work’, to do what they are supposed to do at a certain time, and to solve problems as they arise, rather than letting them go.”

muut (mixture of wool and tungsten)

“Depending on the situation in the future, you may be forced to go to another country further as a refugee. There is a possibility that you will return to your own country or remain in Jordan. In any case, knowing ‘how to work,’ not to mention woodworking skills, will help me in the future.”

A sense of accomplishment in manufacturing as an opportunity to regain confidence.

Furthermore, Ms.Ohashi feels that for refugees, the satisfaction of manufacturing and a sense of accomplishment can be an important catalyst for regaining self-confidence.

Ms.Ohashi: “We don’t want people to come to MUUT just to work, but we want to create a place where refugees can ‘be themselves.

Refugees have had traumatic experiences of persecution and war in their home countries. We hope that by using their hands in our workshops to make quality products, they and their families will regain confidence and take steps toward a brighter future. And we aim for them to become part of society in a country that is not their own.”

We want people to feel familiar with refugee issues through our products.

muut (mixture of wool and tungsten)

“MUUT”, the brand introduced here, is a new brand that just launched in the 2021 Coronavirus pandemic. Currently, they sell their products through pop-up stores and online stores. “We hope to gradually expand the lineup of items and have more people pick up our products at hotels and restaurants, etc. Through MUUT’s products, we hope to make the issue of refugees more accessible to the general public. I hope that through MUUT’s products, people will feel the issue of refugees as something close to home,” says Ms.Ohashi.

According to the international cooperation NGO World Vision Japan, as of 2018, Japan has accepted very few refugees among developed countries, with only 42 foreigners recognized as refugees by Japan. In addition to the lack of an adequate screening system, it is difficult for poor refugees to reach Japan, an island nation far from the Middle East and Africa.

However, accepting refugees is not the only way to support them. Providing support through MUUT tableware made by refugees may be one option.

[Reference site] MUUT
[Reference site] UNHCR Association: Facts about Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Figures
[Reference site] World Vision Japan, an NGO for International Cooperation: Ranking of Countries Accepting Refugees [2018 Statistics] Our Refugee Assistance

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