How Afghan refugees are helping Turkey fight coronavirus

by Saba Aziz

UNHCR initiative sees Afghans in Kayseri produce 1,000 face masks a day and soap to aid hospitals and local community.

Afghan refugees are contributing to Turkey's fight against the coronavirus, producing soap and 1,000 face masks a day to protect people from the pandemic.

A group of about 12 refugees living in the Turkish city of Kayseri have teamed up with local volunteers to produce and deliver these essential supplies to state hospitals, migrant health centres and local NGOs. The initiative is funded by the UN refugee agencyy UNHCR.

"Within the first two weeks of mask production, 15,000 were produced," Selin Unal, UNHCR Turkey spokesperson, told Al Jazeera. "Another 15,000 masks are projected to be produced and delivered."

Some 2,600 soaps will also be distributed among the refugee community and locals.

"COVID-19 is a global and fast-evolving health situation," Unal said. "It affects everyone without discrimination, reminding us that we are all in this together, and every action counts."

Turkey, which has so far recorded more than 172,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 5,000 deaths, has started easing lockdown restrictions


Restaurants and cafes around the country, as well as Istanbul's iconic 15th-century Grand Bazaar market, reopened earlier this month.

Officials say the pandemic is now under control, but it is still mandatory to wear masks when shopping or visiting crowded public places.

Ali Hekmat, who moved to Kayseri from the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2009, said he decided to take part in the volunteer work as a way to "give back" to Turkey and its people during the health crisis.

"We were so warmly welcomed by the Turkish government and local people, we found shelter, we have jobs, our children can go to school, and it is time for us to give something back," the 35-year-old, who works as an architect, told Al Jazeera.

The refugees, some of them tailors, are using five sets of sewing machines to prepare the cloth masks. They are aiming to produce 30,000 masks by the end of the 30-day programme.

"There was a shortage of masks. I wanted to use the refugees' talent and locally available fabric to show that we, refugees, can also contribute to the response of the pandemic and not just rely on assistance," Hekmat said.

Among the volunteers is Roshan Ghafori, a 26-year-old dentistry student who recently left Herat along with her mother and three siblings to escape the threat of the Taliban group.

She said the coronavirus has impacted people across the world. "In this situation... it's our duty to help the people in any way," Ghafori told Al Jazeera.