Trafficking Victims Join Fight Against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan

COVID-19, Counter-Trafficking

Baku – Face masks, along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, have become emblematic of the COVID-19 epoch. 

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a shortage of personal protection equipment in Azerbaijan, where the problem has been exacerbated by criminal gangs moving vast quantities of face masks out of the Southern Caucasus country.  

Now a group of victims of trafficking, in a shelter supported by IOM, have taken measures into their own hands, and started to produce masks for themselves and for the local community in their part of the capital Baku. 

Using scraps of cloth and other materials at hand, as well as sewing machines provided by IOM and USAID, these volunteers already have turned out hundreds of home-made masks which they are handing out to essential service providers in their neighbourhood. 

Mehriban Zeynalova, head of the Temiz Dunya (Clean World) shelter said, “Some our residents were taught to sew, and they are acting on the human response to do what you can, based on what you have.” 

She added that they are fully aware that homemade masks are not as good as medical-grade equipment. “We are operating on the assumption that a homemade mask is better than nothing. With the right materials we could do even more,” she said. 

Dr Jaime Calderon, Senior Health Adviser at IOM’s Regional Office in Vienna, applauded the initiative, but advised caution. “The US Center for Disease Control says that in settings where facemasks are not available, healthcare personnel might use homemade masks, even bandanas or scarves for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (and that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face”. 

Dr Calderon added: “Homemade face masks are not considered personal protective equipment against COVID-19 viruses, or any micro-organism transmitted during coughing or sneezing because their usefulness in preventing transmission is still unknown. However, one study at Cambridge University revealed that surgical masks are three times more effective in blocking viruses and bacteria from penetrating the mask compared to homemade masks. Wearing of face masks alone is not sufficient for protection.  Additional preventative measures are needed such as avoiding contact with potentially infected persons, practising of coughing etiquette by covering nose and mouth with coughing or sneezing, frequent handwashing with soap and water and abiding by the social distancing policy of the country.”

IOM Azerbaijan has been running counter-trafficking projects since 2015 which aim to improve living conditions and support business initiatives of the residences of the shelter by providing them training, equipment and materials for their ventures. 

For more information, please contact Ilqar Khudiyev at IOM Azerbaijan, Tel: +994 50 319 66 80, Email:  

  • Migrants at Baku’s IOM-supported shelter for victims of trafficking have been making masks to help in the COVID-19 effort. Photo: IOM 

  • Migrants at Baku’s IOM-supported shelter for victims of trafficking have been making masks to help in the COVID-19 effort. Photo: IOM