The Greek refugees battling to prevent Covid-19 with handmade face masks | Global development

In some of the most dangerously overcrowded Greek refugee camps, it has become a race against time to raise awareness about Covid-19 and ensure an outbreak does not spread among an already vulnerable population.

In the infamous Moria camp on the island of Lesbos close to 20,000 people live in a space designed for just under 3,000.

There is is already limited access to running water in the camp, and toilets and showers regularly block due to overuse. The first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on the island last week when a Greek woman from the town of Plomari tested positive. So far this the only confirmed case on the island.

There is an increasing sense of urgency in Moria about hygiene and handwashing. In the absence of support from the Greek authorities, residents are taking matters into their own hands.

“The conditions were out of control and so we knew that we needed to do something by ourselves,” said Deen Mohammad Alizadah, 30, originally from Afghanistan.

Alizadah is one of the residents who have come together to create an awareness team. “The only thing that can control the virus here is the management of people and making them aware,” he said.

The members of the team are a snapshot of the diverse population of Moria, heralding from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and the Congo region, each dispensing advice to their own communities. The team has already swelled to 50 people, with more joining by the day. Megaphones are being distributed to help spread the word about the importance of hygiene and washing.

Due to high demand, face masks are currently in short supply in pharmacies in the local town of Mytilene, and since there is no current mass distribution of masks to the camp, industrious Moria residents have come up with their own solution.

In a small building around a kilometre from Moria, a group of four Afghan women have volunteered their time to sew face masks for the camp’s population. Stand By Me Lesvos, a Greek NGO, realised that they could make use of the sewing machines from a previous project.

“It was set up within six hours on Friday,” said Mixalis Avialotis from Stand By Me Lesvos. “One of the Afghan women used to be a tailor in Kabul and said she’d have no problem managing the operation.”

The women are working at a rapid rate and in their first day made approximately 500 masks, which are fashioned from cotton fabric bought from local shops. The masks are then packaged into plastic wrappers purchased from the local Lidl supermarket and boxed to be brought to the camp. The masks, which will be given out for free, will initially only be distributed to camp residents who start to feel unwell or exhibit symptoms of the virus, such as a cough.

Once worn, the masks will then be boiled and sterilised so that, if necessary, they can be reused.

Posters made by children in the overcrowded Vathy refugee camp on Samos.



Posters made by children in the Vathy refugee camp on Samos are part of an effort to combat overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. Photograph: Still I Rise NGO

Avialotis estimates that they have now made around 1,500 masks and said that social distancing and other Covid-19-mitigating measures have also been implemented inside the factory.“

On the island of Samos where the refugee camp hosts nearly 7,500 people in a space designed for 648, conditions are similarly cramped. Huddled on a hill above the town of Samos, the island’s capital, washing facilities are scarce. Around 400 of the thousands of people living here are unaccompanied minors, some of whom have already have skin conditions such as chronic scabies due to poor sanitary conditions.

Guilia Cicoli, co-founder of Still I Rise NGO, which runs a youth centre for children living in Vathy camp, told the Guardian that they had spent a lot of time speaking to the children about Covid-19. The children have also produced posters about hand washing and hygiene in class.

“Most of us are Italians so we took it very seriously and started awareness raising before Greece even had any confirmed cases,” she said. “Before we had to close last week we had already replaced handshakes with elbow or feet bumps.”

Movement on the Ground, a Dutch NGO, started taping dispensers of hand sanitiser to olive trees in Samos last week to encourage residents to regularly wash their hands in the dusty and dirty conditions.

The impending threat of the virus has pushed some camp residents from Moria to seek refuge on the mainland. The Guardian knows of a number of them, some with sick family members, who decided that they could not wait for a UNHCR-organised ferry to the mainland and made their own way Athens last week after the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Lesbos.

This decision has left them without access to accommodation and any state provision. Yet for the families, leaving the camps seems like the safer option as many see a Covid-19 outbreak there as inevitable.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/18/the-greek-refugees-battling-to-prevent-covid-19-with-handmade-face-masks

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