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BARDARASH, Iraq - An arc of sparks light up the small workshop and the screech of a grinder cutting through metal pierces the air. When the end of the pipe he was trimming falls and bounces on the concrete floor, Hazhar Ali Hussen sets down the tool, pushes his safety glasses to the top of his head and wipes his brow. He smiles in the blue light of his tarpaulin-walled workshop, happy to finally have tools in his hands again.


“It’s easy for me to do this job, even after a long time. As long as my head and heart are in it,” he said, standing next to his workbench in the Bardarash refugee camp in northern Iraq.


Hazhar’s workshop is courtesy of an Austrian-funded entrepreneurial training program from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). After a course in business and financial management, he received tools and equipment. The first thing he did was build his workshop and open a welding business.


The business is doing well. In just two weeks since he started, he has built another shop in the camp, is in the process of making a third, and has shared his phone number with repair shops in the nearby town of Bardarash.


The UNIDO program came at the right time for Hazhar. “It saved me from the depression I was living in,” he said.


Hazhar is originally from Qamishli, Syria. He grew up helping his father, a carpenter. “Everyday, when I was a child, I worked with my father,” he said. From his father, he learned to love working with his hands and so chose to study industrial design and mechanics in school.


When he graduated, he didn’t find work in his chosen field, but had a car so worked as a driver. In 2014, he was driving a regular route between two cities in northeastern Syria, Qamishli and Hasaka, taking passengers in a minibus. One day, four Syrian army soldiers were among his passengers when the minibus was stopped by Islamic State group (ISIS) militants. They released the women passengers, but detained the four soldiers and Hazhar. They were kept for two months until the order came for them to be killed. The soldiers were executed, but Hazhar was released.


Hazhar returned to his family. He wanted to take his wife and three children, a girl and two boys, out of Syria to find safety in Europe, but he didn’t have the money, so returned to his job as a driver.


In late 2019, a new conflict came to northeast Syria. Turkey launched a military operation against what it said were terrorist groups along the border. Hazhar sent his wife and children to safety in northern Iraq. Hazhar had hoped he would be able to bring his family back home, but instead he sold his car and joined them across the border on January 26, 2020.


In Bardarash camp, Hazhar struggled to adapt to life as a refugee. He clasps his hands in front of him, the ring on his finger catching the light. It and the chain around his neck were gifts from his daughter to replace items stolen by ISIS.


“I was very depressed for about a year. I sat at home, doing nothing but worrying,” he said. His main concern was how to care for his family, now living in tents under the hot summer sun and cold winter rains of northern Iraq. His eldest, a girl, is in her last year of high school, and his boys are 15 and nine years old.


The UNIDO course saved him. In the entrepreneurial training, he learned how to run a business, find customers, and manage finances. At the end of the course, he was given several hundred dollars’ worth of tools.


“I was very excited to have this chance to take the UNIDO training course and to have this workshop,” he said. Getting back to work has lifted him out of the depression he was in. “I feel very good, because I know I have a job.”


His workshop is becoming a gathering spot in the camp, attracting a small crowd when they hear the whine of his tools. “When I start working, people come to sit here and watch me work,” he said, especially children.

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