It has been three months since Safar started making protection masks for COVID-19. So far, he has sewn more than a thousand masks, which have been distributed to refugees, but also to the residents of Trikala city in central Greece, where he lives with his family. The asylum-seeking family from Iraq has been living for the last nine months in an apartment rented as part of the ESTIA programme implemented by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in cooperation with the Municipality of Trikala and its Development Agency, e-Trikala.
For twenty-five years, Safar had his own small tailor’s shop in Zakho, northern Iraq, near the border with Turkey. He made traditional costumes, but also army and police uniforms. As he says, he could never imagine that one day he would sew masks to help protect people from a deadly virus.
“The pandemic does not discriminate. It affects us all. I remember my father saying: ΄Helping people makes our heart feel full’. That’s how I feel. The residents of Trikala have treated us with respect and love. They understand that we have gone through a lot of hardship and that we are trying to rebuild our lives,” Safar adds.
When a resident of Trikala learned about the voluntary offer of the Iraqi refugee, he decided to help him ordering 500 protective masks. For the family of seven from Iraq, this first order is a step towards a new life. Safar wants to work as a tailor again and hopefully to start his own small business.
© UNHCR / e-Trikala
© UNHCR / e-Trikala
“I want to stand on my two feet, work and support my family. I want to stay in Greece, but I have to find a job. I have five children and responsibilities. But I also have dreams for the future”, Safar notes.
As the Iraqi man is already feeling part of the local community, he made masks for the teachers and students of the 2nd High School, where two of his children attend classes.
“My children are learning Greek in this school, while they also love math and physics,” Safar says. “One morning they entered the classroom holding masks in their hands. The teacher and their classmates were surprised. My sons explained that we feel the need to thank them for everything they have done for us.”
Meanwhile, the 45-year-old tailor found another way to show his gratitude. He decided to sew one hundred full body protective uniforms for the staff of e-Trikala. “These people take care of us. The interpreters, social workers and psychologists are coming in contact with many refugees and other beneficiaries on a daily basis. So, I thought that these uniforms would protect them from coronavirus” Safar adds.
“We stand with these people and do everything we can to help them. The society of Trikala has embraced refugees”, says Odysseas Raptis, CEO of e-Trikala. “Safar’s initiative to make a hundred uniforms for our staff shows that asylum seekers appreciate our work and our efforts, too. We can move forward together”.
Since 2017, when ESTIA started being implemented in Trikala, about 414 accommodation places for asylum seekers have been created in 68 apartments, while currently 363 asylum seekers and refugees are hosted in the city of Thessaly. The programme is co-financed by the European Union Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.