Providing essential PPE in direct provision- The Sanctuary Masks Initiative
Written by IGHN Key Correspondent, Ellen O’Hanrahan, 2nd Year Nursing Student, University College Cork
3rd of May 2020
On the 27th of March 2020, an Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar announced people should stay at home, physically distance and only make essential journeys, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. These new measures would prove impossible to implement for refugees and asylum seekers living in direct provision.
There are over 6300 people in Ireland living in overcrowded direct provision centres. Many residents are frontline workers and are given no choice but to live with those at high risk. There is no room to physically distance. Bedrooms, bathrooms and cooking facilities are shared between families. Dr. Eamonn Faller, an infectious disease registrar at Cork University Hospital described the centres as “powder kegs for COVID-19”
The Department of Justice and Equality announced plans for self-isolation units to be set up in direct provision centres across the country. However, The units would be for people with symptoms of COVID-19 still leaving many people at great risk of infection. NASC, the Irish refugee and migrant rights advocacy group viewed the government’s efforts as falling short and in response launched the ‘Move The Vulnerable Out’ campaign. The campaign aims put pressure on the Department of Justice to move people out of direct provision into more suitable accommodation like hotels or empty student apartment complexes.
The urgency of NASC’s plea has been highlighted in recent news when 21 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported at The Skellig Star Hotel in Co. Kerry on the 29th of April. 90 Asylum seekers were moved to Kerry from three different Dublin centres in response to the outbreak. Nobody was tested for the virus before the transfer. Authorities reported that positive cases have since be moved to isolation units in Cork. Around 80 residents remain at the centre, all have been potentially exposed to COVID-19.
One resident of the centre, Azwar Furad (38), spoke to RTE news on the 29th of April: “I don’t think we can come out of this trap. This building is fully infected and we have to be removed from here. This building should be professionally disinfected”.The department insists that all HSE social distancing guidelines are adhered to at the centre, Residents say that this is impossible. When asked whether residents would be moved out the department refused to comment.
Fuelled by government inaction and a desire to protect the themselves and other vulnerable members of the community, a group of 20 women living in direct provision in Cork started The Sanctuary Masks Initiative. The women, all skilled seamstresses, began to make washable hygiene masks. The initiative is led by Olga Voytenko, a Russian resident of the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre. It is spearheaded by the Cork based charity Bettertogether and The Cork Migrant Centre, with the support of UCC University of Sanctuary, UCC Failte Refugees and the UCC feminist society.
Each mask is made in accordance with HSE and WHO guidelines and public health experts were consulted prior to their production. An information leaflet is provided with each mask. The leaflet explains, in several languages how to use and wash the masks.
An art competition was held between teenagers living in the Cork centres to select the mask’s graphic illustration and logo. Many of the teenagers were children of the women who run the initiative. The production of masks and the teenagers artwork saw two generations coming together to create such a crucial product.
Each woman is paid a wage for their work. The Initiative provides an important source of income especially since some of the women have lost their jobs due to the crisis. To date 3704 masks have been made, packaged and distributed. The initiative aims to make 40,000 masks to supply all direct provision centres in Cork as well as other vulnerable populations.
The Sanctuary Masks initiative is a testament to the hard work and camaraderie of these women. In these uncertain times, we must strive to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, just as they have done. To come together in solidarity and move the vulnerable out before it is too late.
To support the initiative Sanctuary masks aims to raise €15,000, donations can be made through GoFundMe.com. More information is available from [email protected] and @sanctuarymaskinitiative on Instagram.
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