Asylum-seekers in Chios take action against COVID-19
Every morning Malak sits in her usual seat around a large table. There, in front of her, a white sewing machine is placed as well as thread and pieces of colorful fabrics.
The 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Syria is making face masks against COVID-19 for refugees and migrants living in the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) on Chios island in the eastern Aegean.
Malak is part of a group of volunteers who enthusiastically took action starting in late August to help protect asylum seekers from the pandemic.
“How can you turn a blind eye to what is happening around the world? We hear and see the news. People are suffering because of this virus. We decided that we cannot stay idle. Those of us who know how to sew must help our fellow men and women. I feel that it is my moral obligation to do whatever I can, and at this time I can make face masks” she said.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in cooperation with the government of Greece Reception and Identification Service, appealed to volunteers among the refugees and asylum-seekers that live in the Chios reception centre and many were keen to participate. The sewing machines and all necessary material are provided by UNHCR, with the support of the European Union, while the action is jointly implemented with the Reception and Identification Service.
Seventeen people, men and women from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries, are involved in this voluntary effort. They were all either professional tailors in their country of origin or have significant experience in tailoring.
So far, 2,200 face masks have been made, washed, sterilized and placed in a special packaging. The distribution of the masks has already started. The plan is that each asylum-seeker living in the centre will receive a plastic package containing a face mask.
Malak is one of the most productive members of the team, having made more than 400 face masks in the last three months. The 30-year-old asylum-seeker is a professional who has worked for several years in a sewing shop in Deir al-Zour in Syria.
Next to Malak sits Adama from Guinea. The 31-year-old asylum-seeker has worked as a tailor in his country and he hopes that one day he will have his own tailoring shop in Athens. He says that by participating in this effort he feels useful and creative, while he also believes that only solidarity can lead to a better future.
“We must do everything we can to protect ourselves from this deadly virus. Living conditions here are difficult. We have to help our family, our friends, but also people we do not know. We must support each other and work hard. I hope that this evil will end soon, I hope that light will prevail over darkness” says Adama.
Due to the pandemic, team members work in two shifts to avoid overcrowding. The use of face mask is mandatory, while they all wash their hands regularly and apply antiseptic solution.
For Malak, this group is like a second family. The 30-year-old woman arrived alone in Chios in January 2020. Her three children and husband arrived in Greece before her and they now live on Crete. Malak was finally transferred to join her family on Crete in October. But while awaiting her transfer, she shared her problems, her anxieties, but also her dreams for the future with the other volunteers in the group.
“I haven’t seen my children for five years now. I can’t wait to hold them into my arms”, Malak declared prior to being moved to Crete. “I want to be healthy, that is why I am very careful and wear a face mask. I want to rebuild my life and support my children, my son and my two daughters. That’s what all refugees want. To stay healthy, beat the virus and get back on our feet. That is why we are making face masks. We care for others and respect life. We want to live”, says the 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Syria.
COVID-19 has also hit the Reception and Identification Centre in VIAL, where many people have been tested positive to the virus. That is why, since mid-October, the site has been under lockdown. During this period, the group of volunteers had temporarily stopped producing face masks but as of this week they sat down again around the big table with the white sewing machines.