UNIQLO Sustainability

Unlocking The Power of Clothing

INDIA

INTRODUCTION

2017.02 Clothing donations and support for self-reliance for refugees in India.
Helping refugees develop economic and social self-reliance.

Approximately 200,000 people are living as refugees in India. Many of them are urban refugees living in cities, therefore they need to secure means of living by themselves in the same manner as general citizens. Fast Retailing sends the clothing provided by customers to refugees in India through its All-Product Recycling Initiative in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In addition, it supports self-reliance for refugees by providing work experience and helping them to find jobs so that they can lead their own lives.
The following essay written by Ms. Natsuki Yasuda, a photojournalist, provides a glimpse into the lives of refugees as they strive to achieve self-reliance.

ESSAY

"Don’t forget about us," a grandmother said quietly. I unconsciously gazed at her once again. Overwhelmed by the old lady’s emotional eyes that reflected everything that she had in her mind including a longing for home, memories of persecution, and embarrassment in a foreign country, I could not talk to her any longer. I kept releasing the shutter in the hope that the day will come when she can live in her hometown again without worry.

  • ©Natsuki Yasuda / studioAFTERMODE
  • This was my third visit to India. However, it was the first time for me to focus on people that fled their home countries as refugees. Delhi, the country’s capital covered with sand, dust and smoke so thick as to make lights unrecognizable, and flooded with people busily coming and going amid the shouting street vendors all around. What lives do refugees live in a city so full of vitality?

    I found that as many as 200,000 people had already sought refuge in India for protection from battles in their home countries and danger. Some had lived in geographically close countries such as Myanmar and Afghanistan, while others came from as far as Somalia, Sudan and Syria, based on the visas granted.

  • ©Natsuki Yasuda / studioAFTERMODE
  • "Women rarely work outside in my country," said Layla (age 22) who had fled from Afghanistan to India in September 2015. She was working as a cashier in a Middle Eastern restaurant every day to help her younger brother and sister attend school. Just leaving home for work was like an adventure because of the discrimination and prejudices that she might experience. During my stay, Layla and other women often told me about the hardships suffered by women who came from Islamic countries. India had been applying relatively generous policies to working refugees. Local NGOs were busy providing them with work training and raising their income level. Even so, it was difficult for people from countries with different cultures to flourish easily. To survive in a foreign country, they had to cope with the difficulties that were different from severe realities they experienced in their home countries.

    "I feel safe in this country. No doubt about that. But …" After a little while, Layla started to speak nostalgically. "I cannot see the stars in the sky that I used to watch from my hometown in this country." I wondered how beautiful her town had been before the situation had deteriorated!

    The face of Layla, a cheerful lady with a smile, was clouded suddenly when she began to speak about her town and family. She had been unable to get in touch with her older brother for almost a year and a half. She knows that there will be no improvements in the difficult situation in her hometown, while she is in India away from the problems. Keeping such thoughts about her home country deep inside, she continues to lead her life in a society whose language and culture are different.

  • ©Natsuki Yasuda / studioAFTERMODE
  • Despite such a background, she looked dignified and lively when she was working for customers in the restaurant. During my stay, I had a chance to speak not only with Layla but also Rohingya women engaging in an embroidery work, Afghan youngsters working as opening staff members in a famous shoe store, and a Chin family who had launched a business of exporting dried fishes. "I can live anywhere in the future because I worked hard to acquire skills in this country," said a Chin lady proudly who was aiming to become a beautician. They were not only working to make money but to nurture their self-esteem and establish their roles in society. I was told by many people that they wanted to work for Japanese companies as well.

    We are inclined to think of the refugee problem as an issue happening in countries far from Japan such as the Middle East and Africa. However, we should pay attention to the fact that people quietly live uncertain lives as evacuees in much closer Asian countries as well. Imagine that it is happening in the same society instead of some distant places. We will find that there are many more things we can do than what we have done so far. What response can we give to the lady who said, "Don’t forget about us" ?

"Don’t forget about us," a grandmother said quietly. I unconsciously gazed at her once again. Overwhelmed by the old lady’s emotional eyes that reflected everything that she had in her mind including a longing for home, memories of persecution, and embarrassment in a foreign country, I could not talk to her any longer. I kept releasing the shutter in the hope that the day will come when she can live in her hometown again without worry.

©Natsuki Yasuda / studioAFTERMODE

This was my third visit to India. However, it was the first time for me to focus on people that fled their home countries as refugees. Delhi, the country’s capital covered with sand, dust and smoke so thick as to make lights unrecognizable, and flooded with people busily coming and going amid the shouting street vendors all around. What lives do refugees live in a city so full of vitality?

I found that as many as 200,000 people had already sought refuge in India for protection from battles in their home countries and danger. Some had lived in geographically close countries such as Myanmar and Afghanistan, while others came from as far as Somalia, Sudan and Syria, based on the visas granted.

©Natsuki Yasuda / studioAFTERMODE

"Women rarely work outside in my country," said Layla (age 22) who had fled from Afghanistan to India in September 2015. She was working as a cashier in a Middle Eastern restaurant every day to help her younger brother and sister attend school. Just leaving home for work was like an adventure because of the discrimination and prejudices that she might experience. During my stay, Layla and other women often told me about the hardships suffered by women who came from Islamic countries. India had been applying relatively generous policies to working refugees. Local NGOs were busy providing them with work training and raising their income level. Even so, it was difficult for people from countries with different cultures to flourish easily. To survive in a foreign country, they had to cope with the difficulties that were different from severe realities they experienced in their home countries

"I feel safe in this country. No doubt about that. But …" After a little while, Layla started to speak nostalgically. "I cannot see the stars in the sky that I used to watch from my hometown in this country." I wondered how beautiful her town had been before the situation had deteriorated!

The face of Layla, a cheerful lady with a smile, was clouded suddenly when she began to speak about her town and family. She had been unable to get in touch with her older brother for almost a year and a half. She knows that there will be no improvements in the difficult situation in her hometown, while she is in India away from the problems. Keeping such thoughts about her home country deep inside, she continues to lead her life in a society whose language and culture are different.

©Natsuki Yasuda / studioAFTERMODE

Despite such a background, she looked dignified and lively when she was working for customers in the restaurant. During my stay, I had a chance to speak not only with Layla but also Rohingya women engaging in an embroidery work, Afghan youngsters working as opening staff members in a famous shoe store, and a Chin family who had launched a business of exporting dried fishes. "I can live anywhere in the future because I worked hard to acquire skills in this country," said a Chin lady proudly who was aiming to become a beautician. They were not only working to make money but to nurture their self-esteem and establish their roles in society. I was told by many people that they wanted to work for Japanese companies as well.

We are inclined to think of the refugee problem as an issue happening in countries far from Japan such as the Middle East and Africa. However, we should pay attention to the fact that people quietly live uncertain lives as evacuees in much closer Asian countries as well. Imagine that it is happening in the same society instead of some distant places. We will find that there are many more things we can do than what we have done so far. What response can we give to the lady who said, "Don’t forget about us" ?

PHOTO GALLERY

  • Some of the 34,000 pieces of clothing donated in November were each distributed.

  • That day we distributed the donated clothing to the members of the Chin ethnic group who had fled Myanmar.
    People of all ages, from young children to elderly, gathered there.

  • Rohingya women learn embroidery, as it is a highly sought craft in India.
    This is a place to get work as well as a valuable place for mothers to meet.

  • A young man who originally arrived from Afghanistan now works at a shoe store, which is part of a global operation.
    He is fluent in English and is never seen without a smile on his face when talking to his customers.

  • A Chin family who had launched a business of exporting dried fishes using the rooftop space of the apartment where they live.

  • Afghanistan food prepared by the women. They cook food at their own homes before bringing it as a way to earn money, while simultaneously reducing the burden of leaving the house for an extended period of time.

  • A view of the back alleys in the city of Delhi, crowded with residential and shopping streets.
    Refugee families take shelter in an apartment typically found in an area like this.

PROFILE

Natsuki Yasuda

Natsuki Yasuda was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1987 and is a photojournalist from studioAFTERMODE. At the age of sixteen, she interviewed poor children in Cambodia as a friendship reporter for Children Without Borders. She currently reports on poverty and disasters in Cambodia, as well as Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Japan. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, she has documented developments in the stricken areas with a focus on the city of Rikuzentakata. In 2012, she was awarded the eighth Younosuke Natori Photography Award for her work "Uganda Orphans Born with HIV - AIDS." She has published a photography picture book titled And still, to the sea - life in Rikuzentakata (Poplar Publishing), and the following books: Together with you to that place again tomorrow - Syrian refugees (Shinchosha) and Communicating with photographs – face to face with children around the world (Nihon Syashin Kikaku). She graduated from Sophia University.