Asylum seekers making masks in effort to stop spread of Covid-19

Cork-based Sanctuary Mask Initiative providing protective gear to DP centres and nursing homes

A group of asylum seekers living in the direct provision system in Co Cork have started to manufacture washable masks for use in combatting the spread of Covid-19.

The Sanctuary Mask Initiative was established by the Cork Migrant Centre and local charity Better Together, which seeks to empower women seeking asylum in the State.

Dr Naomi Masheti, who manages the centre, said the initiative came about after the introduction of restrictions on movement forced the closure of a sewing project for women living in direct provision centres in Cork.

"We had been working with women in direct provision centres for the last three years doing various workshops at Nano Nagle Place and for the last year, they had been working with a fashion designer, Charlotte Cargin from Kinsale, " she said.


"They had been making headbands but that stopped with the lockdown so they were in the direct provision centres doing nothing and at the same time Olga Voykenko, a Russian lady, got funding to start a sewing studio in Cork.

“She also had to stop with lockdown so she was in the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre but she got in contact with the other women who were in other centres who had been attending our sewing classes.”

Sewing machines

About 15 women living in various centres in Cork have been given sewing machines and are making washable masks. These are being distributed to others in direct provision centres, where confined living spaces make social distancing difficult, and to other vulnerable groups, including people living in nursing homes.

Dr Masheti said the plan was to increase the number of asylum seekers involved in making the masks, which were designed by Ms Cargin, who also supplied the material to make them.

“The Sanctuary Mask Initiative is designed to harness the strengths of people living within the direct provision system, recognising their agency in responding to the Covid-19 crisis,” Dr Masheti said.

Those involved in making the masks are being paid a wage for their work and the masks are being delivered across Cork by Dr Masheti and other volunteers.

The initiative is being supported by UCC University of Sanctuary, the UCC Feminist Society and Fáilte Refugees Societies.

Further infomration is available from and donations can be made to a gofundme page which aims to raise €10,000 to support the work.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times