Afghan Refugees Fighting COVID-19 in Turkey

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KAYSERI, Turkey — Turkey has hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Yet, they have reopened public restaurants, cafés, shopping centers and lifted lockdown restrictions. Moreover, the government has made little effort in enforcing extreme preventative measures as a response. However, the Turkish government does continue to provide financial aid and wage support to families in need and the Ministry of Health is now providing antibody screening tests for workers. On top of that, a group of Afghan refugees fighting COVID-19 has made a difference in helping their Turkish community through the pandemic.

Turkey’s Current State

The good news is that the COVID-19 recovery rate for Turkey is around 87% while the mortality rate is only about 2.5%. However, as a result of mutations in COVID-19, the Ministry of Health has had to update its methods and criteria for testing. Additionally, the Infectious Diseases Association estimates thousands of those infected are not even aware they have the virus.

In early June, the Turkish government began to relax lockdown restrictions by opening restaurants, markets and cafés once again. This caused an uptick in outbreaks, with cases doubling to 1,600 new infections daily in the week following the reopening. Top public health officials in Turkey staunchly advised against lifting the restrictions this soon. Since the reopening, Turkey has not reimposed the previous lockdown measures, but wearing masks is mandatory in all public spaces at the behest of the Interior Ministry.

Afghan Refugees Fighting COVID-19

Defeating the virus is going to take all hands on deck. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chapter in Turkey is helping to facilitate and fund these efforts. Al Jazeera reported that 12 Afghan refugees fighting COVID-19 in the Turkish city of Kayseri are helping local volunteer groups with funding from the UNHCR. They are making and sending out sanitation supplies and personal protection equipment to hospitals and health centers in the city. These refugees have been able to produce around 1,000 facemasks per day and produced 15,000 within the first two weeks. They have also been making thousands of bars of soap that they then distribute to their community.

Selin Unal, a spokesperson for the UNHCR chapter in Turkey said, “COVID-19 is a global and fast-evolving health situation. It affects everyone without discrimination, reminding us that we are all in this together, and every action counts.”

Refugees’ Reasons for Helping

The population of refugees in Turkey is more than 3.6 million, and that includes Afghan, Syrian and Pakistani migrants. Many of the recruited refugees producing face masks and soap also work as tailors. One of the Afghan refugees fighting COVID-19 is an architect named Ali Hekman. He told Al Jazeera that he and his family “were so warmly welcomed by the Turkish government and local people,” and “wanted to give something back” to them.

– Isabel Corp
Photo: Flickr

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