Iraq: MSF provides emergency care to Syrian families fleeing to Iraq

2 Oct 2013
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With the border crossing between Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan set to reopen, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is preparing its teams at the border and in the surrounding camps to respond to a large influx of refugees from Syria.

“We came from Tel Brak in northeastern Syria,” says Zeina, who crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan with her husband and four children before the crossing was closed in mid-September.

“Seven months ago we left our house as the area was becoming a war zone. The entire village left,” she says.

 “We lived for seven months in the mountains, with no proper place to live, no work, no money and sometimes no food,” Zeina says.

“Then we decided to move to Al Qamishli and cross the border from there into Iraq. The border was closed, so we had to stay in a school nearby. When we heard that the border was open again, we left early in the morning.

"It took us two hours to cross on foot. We’re so relieved to be here.”

Syrians in Iraq

Some 60,000 refugees from Syria crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan in the month from 15th August, when it reopened after three months of closure.

On the day it reopened, 7,000 people crossed the border; over the next month, some 800 Syrians crossed each day.

Most of the refugees arrive at the border on foot after a long walk through a desert valley in intense heat.

While the majority of the refugees come from Damascus and Aleppo, there have been growing numbers coming from Al Hassaka governorate, in northeastern Syria, after increased fighting in the area.

The long walk to safety

MSF teams have set up health posts on both sides of the border, providing medical consultations and distributing water to refugees waiting to be transferred to a number of transit camps which are currently being set up in Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniya governorates.

“The majority of our patients are children, pregnant women, and mothers who have recently given birth,” says Paul Yon, MSF’s head of mission in Dohuk.

“Many are suffering from moderate dehydration due to the long distance they’ve had to walk, or the long waiting time before crossing the border.”

Patients with chronic diseases

Syria’s ruined health system has also taken a heavy toll on patients with chronic diseases, while some patients are in a state of shock.

Yon says, “we are also seeing cases of chronic disease such as hypertension, asthma and epilepsy. Some patients have not been able to access their medicines in Syria, where the health system has fallen apart.

"Other patients we see in our health post are in a state of shock: they have been displaced many times inside Syria since the conflict erupted, and they decided to cross the border because they faced life-threatening situations.”

On the Iraqi side of the border, MSF teams have provided more than 1,040 general healthcare consultations since mid-August to refugees waiting to be transferred to Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniya governorates.

With many refugees arriving without possessions, MSF teams have distributed relief items including jerry cans and plastic sheeting to 290 families in the transit camps.

In the coming days, MSF will also start providing general healthcare consultations to refugees in a number of camps in Erbil governorate.

On the Syrian side of the border, MSF teams have provided 982 medical consultations and distributed water to 33,000 people waiting to cross into Iraq.

A new life as a refugee

Syrians entering Iraq are registered at the border by the Kurdish authorities and the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR.

After registration, they are taken to one of the many refugee camps in northern Iraq.

Since the conflict began, more than two million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

MSF in Iraq

Since May 2012, MSF has also been working in Domeez refugee camp in Dohuk governorate, where more than 42,000 Syrian refugees have been living. Teams are providing general healthcare and mental health services.

MSF continues to monitor the situation at the border and remains ready to respond to urgent health needs . In parallel, MSF is also assessing the needs of some 70,000 refugees who have settled in the city of Dohuk.

Find out more about MSF’s work in Iraq

Find out more about MSF’s work in the Syrian conflict