“I’m scared to work outside the house during the pandemic because if I get infected, my ill parents would too. But staying home was not an option,” shares Fatemeh*.
From assembling kitchen hangers to sewing dresses, 21-year-old Fatemeh, an Afghan refugee who has been in Iran since she was a child, has worked many different daily jobs to provide for her family. She is the sole breadwinner for her parents, and her 10- and 13-year-old nephews. Fatemeh’s father suffers from high blood pressure and eye problems, which require constant medication.
Many vulnerable Afghans in Iran are struggling to make ends meet because of pandemic-related financial difficulties. The dilemma is common: stay at home to avoid infection and forego income, or work outside the home to afford basic family needs, despite the health risk.
A fifth wave of Covid-19
Iran continues to be the most impacted country in the Middle East region with regards to Covid-19. It is currently facing a fifth wave – the worst so far in terms of reported number of daily cases and deaths. The socio-economic side-effects of Covid-19 have continually hit the country hard since the beginning of the pandemic.
Fatemeh was looking for a job where she could have the chance to do what she is skillful and passionate about: tailoring. “I used to work at a workshop making children’s dresses years ago. I was a fast tailor,” she says with pride.
In order to help Afghan refugees across Iran have a source of income, especially during the pandemic, NRC has been providing “business toolkits", thanks to the generosity of the European Union. Toolkits are offered for a variety of occupations such as: welding, hairdressing, tailoring and carpentry. They are provided to Afghan refugees who have completed vocational training with NRC, or those who are already skilled but without work.
Working safely from home
After NRC teams discovered Fatemeh’s difficult situation and her tailoring skills, she was given a sewing machine.
“Things are much better now that I have a sewing machine. I can work while taking care of my parents. I feel safer from Covid-19,” Fatemeh says happily.
She is now taking orders from a distributor in her neighbourhood, mostly for blanket covers and cushions. Although she is satisfied with her work, she feels there are too few orders for her as she is very skillful and fast. “I really wish to receive more orders. I would also really like to make dresses,” she adds.
Most of the income she receives funds her father’s medication. She is relieved that she can work safely from home – a luxury for many Afghan refugees in the pandemic.
Although the sewing machine has helped Fatemeh buy medication and other basic items like food, her income is not enough to support her nephews with the expenses related to their education.
“With the Covid-19 situation, I’m scared to send the children to school. Online learning and the cost of a tablet or smartphone plus the cost of the internet is too high for me. I hope I can send them to school when I get more orders in future”, says Fatemeh.
“For now, what I can do is to teach them my skills. I teach my nephews how to work with the sewing machine when I’m free.”
NRC in Iran
Since 2012, NRC Iran has been assisting displaced Afghans in Iran as well as their Iranian host communities. We work to improve protection and access to basic humanitarian services across eight provinces (Alborz, Tehran, Hormozgan, Kerman, Razavi Khorazan, Marzaki, Semnan, and Sistan and Baluchestan), and are opening operations in Yazd province. We also coordinate with NRC operations in Afghanistan.
Since April 2019, we have expanded operations to assist people affected by floods and since early 2020 we have significantly expanded our programmes to support the Covid-19 pandemic response. In 2021, we are stepping up our emergency response to support new Afghans refugees arriving to Iran with a multi-sectorial emergency response as well as recovery interventions.
The project that Fatemeh benefitted from is part of a three-year project called “Enhanced Access to Rights, Essential Services and Livelihoods for Vulnerable Afghans Displaced in Iran”. The project began in January 2019 and is funded with the generous support of the European Union. This project is led by NRC, in partnership with Relief International, and the International Consortium for Refugees in Iran.
Currently NRC Iran is scaling its work up significantly in connection with recent developments in Afghanistan, while maintaining all existing programmes in Iran.
* Indicates that name has been changed to respect the individual's wish for anonymity.