HUFFINGTON POST
07/28/2016 01:47 pm ET

Iranians And Afghan Refugees Work Together To Transform Hateful Graffiti Into Artwork

The community project has fostered a new sense of unity among residents.
UNHCR Iran

Once tarnished by walls covered in hateful graffiti and streets littered with garbage, the Saadi neighborhood of Shiraz, Iran, now boasts beautifully-painted murals and a newly fostered sense of community.

The United Nations Refugee Agency and the Iranian government spearheaded a collaborative initiative to clean up and beautify Shiraz while uniting its residents ― a diverse population of Iranians and Afghan refugees ― who have endured divisive social tensions and hostility.

While the UNHCR notes there are nearly 1 million Afghans currently living in Iran, the country’s interior ministry estimates the actual number is closer to 3 million. Large numbers of Afghans in Iran risk being deported, including many who are living there illegally.

“It had become custom for Afghans and Iranians to blame each other – verbally and through graffiti and hate slogans – for the problems they saw around them,” explained Alex Kishara, who heads UNHCR’s operations in Shiraz.

A team of more than 60 community volunteers and students from both groups worked together with local artists to paint over walls tagged with discriminatory messages, in addition to picking up trash. The new murals feature designs depicting Iranian and Afghan carpets, as well as other cultural symbols.

Check out UNHCR’s photographs of the inspirational transformation below:

  • Iranian and Afghan children clean up the neighborhood as part of a week-long community-led mural painting project in Shiraz,
    UNHCR Iran
    Iranian and Afghan children clean up the neighborhood as part of a week-long community-led mural painting project in Shiraz, Iran.
  • Iranians together with Afghan refugees worked together painting beautiful wall murals over graffiti in their Saadi neighborho
    UNHCR Iran
    Iranians together with Afghan refugees worked together painting beautiful wall murals over graffiti in their Saadi neighborhood.
  • Lots of different colors of paint were used to cover graffiti-filled walls during the initiative.
    UNHCR Iran
    Lots of different colors of paint were used to cover graffiti-filled walls during the initiative.
  • Named after one of Iran's most cherished poets, the Saadi neighborhood in Shiraz is known throughout the country as 'the city
    UNHCR Iran
    Named after one of Iran's most cherished poets, the Saadi neighborhood in Shiraz is known throughout the country as 'the city of poets.'
  • The Saadi neighborhood in Shiraz is home to a large population of Afghans. Iran has hosted almost 1 million refugees for
    UNHCR Iran
    The Saadi neighborhood in Shiraz is home to a large population of Afghans. Iran has hosted almost 1 million refugees for almost 40 years, in response to a protracted refugee crisis.
  • UNHCR community-led projects are strengthening the social fabric between Afghans and Iranians living in Iran.
    UNHCR Iran
    UNHCR community-led projects are strengthening the social fabric between Afghans and Iranians living in Iran.
  • Volunteers paint as part of a week-long community-led mural painting project.
    UNHCR Iran
    Volunteers paint as part of a week-long community-led mural painting project.
  • Hateful text and graffiti have been replaced with artwork.
    UNHCR Iran
    Hateful text and graffiti have been replaced with artwork.
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