Coronavirus in Syrian Refugee Camps, Warnings and Actions

فيروس كورونا

As the new coronavirus steps up at very high levels, knocking on the doors of some world leaders, the International Committee of Red Cross ICRC sounded a serious alarm, warning of irrevocable consequences if the virus spreads in the refugee camps.

The Red Cross Committee’s warnings followed many indications that the virus is likely to spread. The first of which came from the camps in north Idlib, where some aid groups working there, together with the residents of the camps pointed out that all factors of the virus outbreak exist in those camps, particularly the hygienic situation and overcrowding, which coincide the lack of minimum requirements for preventing the outbreak, including sterilization tools and medical supplies.

Simultaneously, administrators of the Atama refugees camp expressed concerns that the circumstances in the camp may contribute in spreading the virus like wildfire, taking in consideration that it’s the biggest camp in the Syrian north, where the number of displaced people in it has increased due to the latest military operation launched by Assad regime in the eastern and western countryside of Idlib, north Syria.

Describing the level of danger and concerns in the camps, some residents said that they no longer think of shelling, raids and military operations; they rather think of the consequences if the virus spreads among them, and the best ways to prevent an outbreak amid their hard situation in terms of health, living, and social life. The residents stressed that camps are a fertile environment for the virus, especially after evacuating the province of the international medical aid groups due to the last military escalation.

In press statements, an official in the Turkey-backed Syrian Interim Government said that the government has taken many measures to cope with possible outbreak, including the establishment of quarantine centers to isolate any confirmed or suspected cases.

In southeastern Syria, specifically in al-Rukban camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border, possibilities of virus outbreak are growing, heralding a humanitarian catastrophe that may claim thousands of lives, especially that the camp is located in a completely isolated desert, where all forms of health care are absent.

The camp administration has not yet taken any precautionary measures to face the virus if it spreads in the camp, an official of the camp says, pointing out that the maximum that can be done in such circumstances is conducting some awareness-raising classes for the residents to protect themselves.

Fear and concerns over the coronavirus have extended beyond the camps inside Syria, particularly those located on the Turkish-Greek border, as international newspapers indicated that refugees there are entrapped by two fires, the first is how to cross the Greek borders into Europe, and the second is the epidemic spread in European countries, especially that no medical care is available on the border.

Press reports accused the Turkish government of using the refugees to pressure the EU governments, ignoring the dangers, threatening their lives.

“The precautionary measures taken by Ankara in Turkey, such as suspending flights to Europe and other countries like Iran and closing schools and universities, contradict with pushing Syrian refugees who lack health care towards E.U. By doing this, Ankara instigates gathering on the Greek border, while health professionals warn of such gatherings,” some reports said.

The situation in Lebanon’s refugee camps is not much different regarding the lack of medical care, but it may get by far more dangerous, as some Lebanese politicians led by the Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces Party, call for isolating these camps, prompting international medical organizations to warn against taking such steps before providing the camps with the necessary medical needs, describing those calls as a scarifying tens of thousands of people.

The Action Group for Palestinians in Syria considers the precautionary measures taken by Lebanese authorities as leaving the refugees alone facing hard and complicated circumstances.

 The group also complained of being marginalized by the UNRWA, Palestinian authority and Palestinian factions, amid sharp deterioration in the Lebanese lira against U.S. dollar, where the lack of a stable income as well as scarcity in the humanitarian aid rendered the Syrian-Palestinian families unable to secure their daily needs.

“The situation of the Syrian-Palestinian families in Lebanon is catastrophic due to the situation in the country and the whole world. Many of these families are not able to feed their children or treat them, and they live in extreme poverty,” the group quoted the aid activist Ahmad To’ma.

On the Jordanian border, the situation appears more reassuring, as the Jordanian authorities issued a decision to isolate Syrian refugees’ camps, and this comes within the framework of precautionary measures taken against Coronavirus.

A statement issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior said that the decision was taken in cooperation with international and regional organizations to provide necessary health care for Syrian refugees within the camps.

Meanwhile, UNHCR spokesperson Mohamed Al-Hawari said that UNHCR has temporarily suspended all interviews with refugees in registration centers and UNHCR offices.

All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center