Morocco prisoners make masks for fellow inmates

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Mask-clad inmates produce protective masks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, at the Oukacha prison in Casablanca on May 18, 2020. (AFP)
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Prison wardens, wearing personal protective equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeps watch at the Oukacha prison in Casablanca on May 18, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Morocco prisoners make masks for fellow inmates

  • Police checks are frequent, and those caught risk up to three months in prison and a fine of up to 1,300 dirhams ($130) for violating the rules

RABAT: Prisoners in Morocco are doing their bit in the country’s fight against the spread of coronavirus — by making thousands of face masks for fellow inmates.
“We feel like we are contributing to the collective effort, even if it’s from behind prison walls,” 40-year-old Khalid, wearing a white coat and a face mask, told AFP during an interview in the presence of prison management.
An inmate at Casablanca’s Ain Sebaa prison — the kingdom’s most crowded jail, with some 8,000 inmates — Khalid leaves his cell every day for the sewing workshop, passing through long corridors that reek of disinfectant.
He finishes off the masks while others cut the fabric or pack the protective items into plastic bags for distribution to some 80,000 prisoners across the country.
The North African kingdom has officially declared 7,300 coronavirus infections, including 197 deaths.
It has extended its lockdown until June 10, and anyone going outdoors requires authorization and must wear a mask.
Police checks are frequent, and those caught risk up to three months in prison and a fine of up to 1,300 dirhams ($130) for violating the rules.
One of the aims of the pilot program, launched at Ain Sebaa prison at the start of May, is to “foster a spirit of citizenship” among detainees and “help them to manage their detention during the lockdown,” prison management said.

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The North African kingdom has officially declared 7,300 coronavirus infections, including 197 deaths.

Since Morocco declared a medical state of emergency in mid-March, prison visits and any activities that require outside intervention have been halted.
Hospital visits are limited to emergencies, while court attendance has also been suspended, with hearings held via video conference.
Over 300 virus cases have been recorded among inmates in the country’s prisons, with about a quarter of infections among personnel, according to official figures.
Rights groups have urged authorities to release some detainees to limit the risk of infection among the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons.
At the start of April, King Mohammed VI pardoned more than 5,600 prisoners.
No cases have been registered at the Ain Sebaa facility, which has “rigorously” applied preventive measures, director Abderrahim Kerrari said.
Disinfectant has been installed at the main entrance and in areas leading to the cells, and sanitizing gel stands on every table in the workshop.
Some of the mask-makers, like 54-year-old Mustafa, worked in the clothing industry before their arrest.
He said he was happy to be “useful to society,” while fellow inmate Wafaa, 37, said he’d signed up to develop skills and gain experience.
The program also aims to “prepare inmates for reintegration into society by instilling in them values such as solidarity,” Kerrari said.
Those taking part were already involved in the prison’s sewing workshops, and received two days of training on mask-making.
Participants are paid for their efforts, based on the number of days worked, although the amount was not disclosed.
The administration chose them for their “good conduct,” giving priority to inmates serving shorter sentences, Kerrari added.
Collectively, some one hundred prisoners in around 20 Moroccan facilities are making 20,000 masks a day — just a drop in the ocean when compared to the 10 million produced daily in local factories repurposed in the fight against the pandemic.
But in the workshop of the women’s wing, 35-year-old Meriem expressed a sense of satisfaction in taking part.
“I am very happy to be doing a job that’s useful for our people during the pandemic,” she said.
“I feel I am doing my duty, even if it’s just a modest contribution.”


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 50 min 51 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.