As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, Iraqi refugee Mohammed Alhashimi and his wife Smaher sat down and discussed how they could help their new country of Luxembourg.

“We need to do something positive. We are neither doctors nor nurses, but we can do something: we can sew masks,” 41-year-old engineer Mohammed told UNRIC.

“I do not like to sit down and not do anything. That is not my character. When any person needs help, I can help him,” he added.

Mohammed, son of a tailor, and Smaher, a seamstress, have since sewed 14,000 masks for free with the help of their two children. Their masks have been distributed across Luxembourg, even reaching the country’s royal palace who thanked them for their work.

Mohammed Alhashimi stands at a table, measuring fabric..
Mohammed Alhashimi measuring fabric. Photo courtesy Gaby Heger 

Giving back to Luxembourg

The family fled Baghdad to Turkey in 2017, before Mohammed travelled alone to a Greek island by boat. Selling all they had to pay for his journey, Mohammed reached Luxembourg via Athens and Paris after hearing the country was welcoming refugees. Once he was awarded refugee status, his wife and two children joined him after a year apart.

Wanting to do something in return for the country that has taken him in, Mohammed asked his Luxembourgish teacher Gaby Heger for help in gathering the materials needed to make the masks. Heger, a former mayor, appealed to her contacts on Facebook for support.

“There was such an overwhelming response that I received the cotton needed to make the masks from across Luxembourg”, Heger said.

The family also received donations of sewing machines, ironing boards and irons, and began producing the masks based on the country’s Ministry of Health guidelines.

The family can make 500 masks working 10 hours a day. Mohammed’s children, 15-year-old Ali and 13-year-old Maryam have also stepped in to help with sewing and ironing when their school closed due to the pandemic.

The masks have been distributed to hospitals, nursing homes, care homes, businesses, and local administrations. Henri Albert Gabriel Félix Marie Guillaume, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, also received some of the family’s masks and called Mohammed to congratulate him for his work.

“I was very happy when the Grand Duke called me and talked with me for fifteen minutes,” said Mohammed, who hopes to have his own sewing company one day.

The Alhashimi family, Gaby Heger and a family friend sits as a group.
The Alhashimi family, Gaby Heger and a family friend. Photo courtesy Gaby Heger 

Tribute to refugees

United Nations Secretary-General António Gutteres paid tribute on World Refugee Day to the contributions of refugees and displaced people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We thank refugees for their resourcefulness and determination to rebuild their own lives, and to improve the lives of those around them. Today and every day, we stand in unity and solidarity with refugees and recognise our fundamental obligation to shelter those fleeing war and persecution,” he concluded.