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IMMIGRATION

Recycled fashion: Refugee boats find second life as bags in Berlin

The grey material from rubber dinghies, abandoned by migrants on the beaches of Greek islands, is finding a new life in Berlin.

Recycled fashion: Refugee boats find second life as bags in Berlin
Nora Azzaoui and Vera Günther, mimicry's founders. Photo: Judith Affolter

Leaning over his sewing machine in the workshop of the small Berlin-based company called mimycri, Khaldoun Alhussain concentrates as he stitches a piece of grey rubber.

A border of yellow thread takes shape on the material that he works with an expert hand.

SEE ALSO: My German career: How a Syrian soap shop owner in Berlin cleaned up his act

The material is transformed by refugees into different sorts of bags, sold on the internet.

Alhussain, a 34-year-old Syrian, is familiar with the robust and weather-resistant rubber that he now works with after being recovered in Greece.

The materials used to make bags. Photo: Judith Affolter

Four years ago, he climbed into a makeshift boat made of the very same material to reach the Aegean island of Chios from the Turkish coast.

“There were many of us and the crossing was very, very dangerous,” says the
tailor, who learnt his trade in garment factories in Damascus before he left
to seek asylum in Germany.

Rafts to bags

mimycri recovers inflatable rafts, abandoned on the shores of Chios and the nearby island of Lesbos, which both bore witness to the 2015 migration crisis when hundreds of thousands of refugees landed on Europe's beaches.

At the peak of the crisis, Greece recorded up to 7,000 arrivals a day.

While the number of crossings has slowed considerably since an agreement between the European Union and Turkey in 2016, it still averages around 100 people per day.

On the spot, non-profit organizations recover the boats that litter the coast, along with discarded life jackets and clothing.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Nora looking very serious…tomorrow we let you into our world through our latest blog post ‘A Day in the Life of mimycri’ ?? Ever wondered how our team operates? What our office looks like? and even what we have for lunch? Wonder no more! ? Our core team is just four; co-founders Vera and Nora and Tailors Abi’s and Khaldoun. On top of that we have an incredible team of freelancers and volunteers that make every day in the studio different and exciting ? Keep a look out tomorrow to read more!! ⠀ .⠀ Photography @bopbopiambop & @meganjoybarclay .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #mimycri #essenceofstories #upcycling #upcycledbag #whomademybag #handmade #ethicalfashion #fashionactivism #designforpurpose #withrefugees #socialstartup #madeinberlin #sustainableberlin #community #travel #blog #berlinblogger #sustainableblog #newblogpost #fridaysforfuture #design #summer #studiolife

Ein Beitrag geteilt von mimycri (@mimycri) am Jul 23, 2019 um 4:00 PDT

“We recover 90 percent of the boats stranded on the coast,” says Toula Kitromilidi, Greek coordinator of the NGO Chios Eastern Shore Response Team.

“The rest are used by the locals,” he adds, indicating how for example farmers convert the boats' rubber panels into tarpaulin covers.

Cut into large strips, the panels are sent to Berlin, cleaned and transformed into useful bags.

Customers “buy these bags because they tell a story, because they are more than just something you own,” says Vera Günther, one of mimycri's two founders, in her bright workshop.

Unique pieces with a story

Heavy sewing machines hum in the background under shelves filled with rolls of rubber.

Each segment is unique, sometimes with stripes or marks that often tell their own tragic stories.

The company's customers, who snapped up some 120,000 euros worth of its wares last year, can indirectly learn “what is happening in Syria… and how many people have died or are still dying there”, adds Alhussain.

His goal is to bring his mother to Berlin from Syria where she is sick and alone.

As for the inhabitants of the Greek islands, “they are very happy (with our work) because they do not want their beaches to be covered with plastic waste,” says Günther.

She gave up her job in the environmental sector to run mimycri.

In total, the company sells 11 products, with three percent of sales donated to NGOs in Greece.

Its latest creation is a toiletry bag, which, like all the products it sells on the internet, is also sold in some shops in Berlin and Munich.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

That same black material (from Tuesday's post), now re-imagined in a mimycri tote ✔️? Large, durable and striking – even without knowing its story you are sure to make an impression when you carry it wherever you go ?Shop mimycri bags on our website and read more about their rich stories and how we get them from the beach to the store. ⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ #mimycri #essenceofstories #upcycling #upcycledbag #whomademybag #handmade #ethicalfashion #fashionactivism #designforpurpose #withrefugees #socialstartup #madeinberlin #bag #community #travel #design #strength #fridaysforfuture #change #traveler #changeofperspective #sustainableliving #sustainableberlin

Ein Beitrag geteilt von mimycri (@mimycri) am Aug 8, 2019 um 4:26 PDT

Helping hand

Günther, 32, was among the Germans who came to offer their help to refugees as they arrived in droves at the country's train stations in the summer of 2015.

“I wanted to be part of this new Germany that welcomes people who have lost their belongings, their homes and sometimes also their families,” she said.

During winter 2015-16, she left for Chios to help frightened migrants landing on the beaches after often harrowing journeys.

With a German passport, she could make the crossing from the Turkish coastal city, Izmir, to the Greek island in 30 minutes for €14 “while drinking a beer and taking a little nap”.

She was profoundly aware that Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans were risking their lives on makeshift rafts by paying at least 1,000 dollars to human traffickers.

With her partner, Nora Azzaoui, she spent several months on the island and returned to Berlin with a section of rubber in her luggage.

It was transformed into a bag and the business idea was born.

The two young women managed to raise €43,000 in a crowdfunding scheme
to bring their dream to life.

Now, the small company employs five people, including a Syrian and a Pakistani.

“We want to change the way we look at refugees,” says Günther.

“These are people… who want to have a job, a house, just like all of us.”

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IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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