Iraq: Huge healthcare needs for people fleeing Islamic State violence

14 Aug 2014
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Over 200,000 people have fled heavy fighting between the Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish forces in Sinjar, Iraq, and other areas of Kurdistan.

For some Iraqis, this is the second or third time they have been displaced by violence. Many have arrived in Kurdistan, where Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been working for two years. Our teams are now helping the new arrivals.

“The local Kurdish people were the first responders,” says Dr Chiara Lepora, MSF’s Programme Manager for Iraq.

“They were the first to provide assistance to all displaced people who entered Kurdistan. Many of those displaced fled from Mosul and its surroundings when violence erupted there in June and July.

“Some are fleeing for the second time, having first fled the violence in Anbar province to take refuge in Mosul.”

Bombing and emergency healthcare

In mid-June, our teams opened mobile clinics for internally displaced people (IDPs) in west Kurdistan. These clinics stopped when the IDP populations fled last week in anticipation of attacks.

The mosque in the town of Bashiqa – a location of one of our mobile clinics – was bombed on 8th August, after the IDPs had left the site.

The MSF team has since reorganised and, on 12th August, set up a clinic in Baharka camp, north of Erbil. Over 2,400 people are currently in the camp, with the population increasing quickly as another 200 families are expected to arrive today.

“There are emergency needs in terms of sanitation, shelter, and non-food items such as hygiene kits,” says Dr Lepora.

“Our teams speak of the fear in the eyes of the displaced people, especially those who had to leave places where they had once taken refuge.”



Medical support

MSF continues to assess the needs in and around Erbil and has visited Erbil Hospital and the neighbourhood of Ainkawa, where hundreds of displaced families have sought refuge in a church compound. We are ready to provide medical support and have a medical team on standby.

Our teams are also responding to the flow of thousands of Iraqi refugees from Sinjar crossing the border into Syria, by running a number of mobile clinics on both sides of the border and ensuring emergency referrals through ambulances for severe cases.

We have also been distributing food and water, with the help of a local relief organisation, at three transit points on the way to the border crossing with Syria. These refugees have been exposed to particularly difficult circumstances and have suffered greatly before reaching any type of humanitarian assistance.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people

The recent influx to Kurdistan comes on top of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis, as well as 230,000 Syrian refugees already in the region, overwhelming a previously efficient health system.

MSF has been working in Domeez refugee camp since May 2012 and in Kawargosk and Darashakran camps since October 2013, providing health services and psychological care to Syrian refugees.

“Media today are focusing on some minorities who are suffering greatly,” says Dr Lepora.

“We also cannot ignore the plight of other populations, trapped in the conflict in Ninewa, as well as in Anbar Province to the west of Baghdad, where violence has led to the displacement of half a million people, and left many trapped with no access to health care and basic services.”

Despite the ongoing conflict in Iraq, which has made it very difficult for humanitarian organisations to work in the country, MSF is striving to provide medical care to the Iraqi people.

MSF has worked continuously in Iraq since 2006, in various locations in the north and south of the country.

In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government, religious committee or international agency for its programs in Iraq, and relies solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work.

MSF currently employs over 300 staff in Iraq.

Read more about MSF's work in Iraq