Maxmur residents: The embargo is more dangerous than Covid-19

Some 12,000 people are living the Maxmur refugee camp in Southern Kurdistan. The camp has been subjected to an unofficial embargo for 18 months - despite the outbreak of coronavirus.

Some 12,000 people are living the Maxmur refugee camp in Southern Kurdistan. The camp has been subjected to an unofficial embargo for 18 months - despite the outbreak of coronavirus. There are health workers in the camp, but limited resources and supplies. In fact, everything is missing, from disposable gloves to masks, from oxygen devices to medication. Sick people are not allowed to leave the camp for medical treatment and those who are already outside the camp cannot return.

At least 93 people in Maxmur have already been infected with the coronavirus, and six people have died from it. There are nearly a thousand patients with chronic diseases who need to take constant medication. In addition to 26 cancer patients and 60 asthma patients, there are 35 paralyzed and bedridden patients who require care, as well as 23 residents with autism and Down's syndrome. Neither the South Kurdish government nor the Iraqi central government or the United Nations have so far provided an official reason for the embargo against Maxmur.

Ismail Ayaz, spokesman for the health committee at the camp, makes a gloomy forecast: "For us, the embargo is more dangerous than the pandemic".

The global spread of Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO on 11 March 2020. The first case detected in South Kurdistan was actually discovered three days earlier. It didn't take long before the virus found its way to the Maxmur refugee camp. Residents took precautionary measures fairly early on and placed the camp under quarantine. “Initially, entry and exit from the camp was prohibited for 45 days. Then this period was extended by another four months. It is true that we have taken tough measures against the pandemic in cooperation with the health care workers and waged a real fight against the virus,” says Ayaz, but without medical equipment, the health committee quickly reached its limits.

Camp under quarantine

Ayaz adds: “We were faced with the pandemic in the midst of adversity due to the lack of opportunities and the embargo. The combination of Corona and the limitation imposed by the embargo have greatly increased the burden on us. Unfortunately, we have no medical supplies to prevent the virus from spreading." Ayaz complains that the governments in Hewlêr and Baghdad as well as the UN have so far fulfilled their responsibility for the Maxmur refugee camp. “The people in Maxmur have been living here as refugees for 27 years. Even so, their existence is completely ignored,” says Ayaz. The only demand made by the population of the camp is the moral and ethical responsibility of the responsible governments and organizations.

Health workers infected with corona

According to Ayaz, a significant part of the health care workers in Maxmur also contracted the coronavirus. “For some of them the infection was very serious. They have received medical treatment and are fine again." Based on previous pandemic experiences, it was decided to extend the quarantine for the entire camp by six months. “All of our colleagues in the health sector have shown great responsibility these days. In times when everyone would rather flee and get to safety for fear of coronavirus, they did their best, and even put their own life in danger. They fought the pandemic with heart and soul around the clock."

We are struggling with our limited resources

Ayaz sums up the health care needs in Maxmur refugee camp as follows: “Our resources are close to zero. We struggle with our limited resources. The possibilities for health workers to protect themselves are almost exhausted. We need gloves, mouth and nose masks, disinfectants, medication, alcohol, medical glasses, protective suits and hygiene products. Above all, we also need medicines and technical equipment that are used in the treatment of Covid-19."

We need everything and we have nothing

Ayaz says that a health center for coronavirus patients has opened at the camp. However, there wouldn't even be an oxygen cylinder or a ventilator there. Everything that would be necessary to care for an infected person in a hospital is missing here. “We are under an embargo and therefore we have no access to health products and medical equipment. We don't even have a contact person for problems of this kind."

One doctor for 12,000 people

Although there is a government-run hospital in Maxmur, there is no continuous care. “A single doctor works there four days a week. It is actually left to the doctor's initiative how often he comes. For some weeks he only comes for two days, others for three. That's the way it is with state hospitals,” says Ayaz. The workforce there is also not interested in taking responsibility.

No action from the UN and the government

Ayaz added that an appeal by the camp to the health minister of the South Kurdish autonomous region was issued. “It is the duty of the Ministry of Health and the United Nations to provide medical care for the refugees in Maxmur. Although we informed both sides and invited them to get an idea for themselves here on site, they did not fulfill their responsibility. That is why we are unable to offer to our health care workers and the people in the camp satisfactory conditions, nor are we able to adequately protect them against the pandemic. Because of this, Maxmur's health workers are also exausted."

Under embargo for 18 months

The health sector in Maxmur in particular is negatively affected by the embargo. The residents do not even know the reason for this embargo. The autonomous region, the United Nations, the European Union, nobody explains the reason for this embargo to the people. “We have repeatedly asked about the reason for the embargo, but we have not received any answer. All rights are witheld from people. The only thing left for them is that when they get sick, the disease worsens and they die."

No permission for medical treatment outside

Because of the embargo, “we can neither bring the necessary drugs and equipment to the warehouse nor send the patients to other cities for treatment”, says Ayaz. There wouldn't even be an ambulance to transport people. “For example, we wanted to move a pregnant woman to hospital for the birth of her child. The South Kurdish authorities, however, sent the mother back halfway. That was arbitrary. The mother and her baby died on the way. When they arrest someone from ISIS, they go on television to explain at length about medical treatment they received, but they leave a pregnant woman who has been a refugee for 27 years to die miserably on the way to treatment. She was told: You come from Maxmur, there is no way for you to get medical care. The baby died in her womb. This is precisely where the lack of resources is evident.”

A number of children was also killed on the way to treatment. Many people have now contracted the coronavirus. “But they got over it with the measures we took here and with the help we could provide with our healthcare. We can therefore say: the embargo is more dangerous for us than the coronavirus pandemic."

There are many chronically ill people in the camp

There are many patients with chronic illnesses in Maxmur and they need constant medical treatment. Their number is about a thousand. “We have 26 cancer patients and 60 asthma patients. We have 35 patients with paralysis who are bedridden and in need of care. In our center for people with Down syndrome and autism, 23 of our friends are receiving help. All of the above have certificates that prove the diagnoses, their condition and the need for medication. Just as medication is of course required against the pandemic, medication is also required for the chronically ill. To date, we have not received any support from any state or government, and we have not even been asked whether we need anything. Unfortunately, we don't have the means to cope with all this. It is difficult for us. We have enough health workers to care for the people here, but we don't have supplies. So we hope that we will be heard and helped. For purely humanitarian reasons, there is an obligation and responsibility to help,” says Ismail Ayaz.