Iraq: MSF provides assistance to the displaced and refugees in Kurdistan

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working in the Erbil region or northern Iraq since 2013 providing primary healthcare and mental health services to Syrian refugees who have fled from the conflict that continues to rage in their country. MSF also assists Iraqis who have been forced out of their homes by the violence.

“There are tens of thousands of people who have left everything behind them­ – their homes, land, relatives and friends,” says nurse Frédéric Bonnot of the people he encountered in north Iraq. Frédéric spent almost four months in Erbil as programme coordinator for Iraqi Kurdistan, where he was tasked with setting up mental health programmes for Syrian refugees and general medicine consultations via mobile clinic for displaced Iraqis.

Delivering healthcare to Syrian refugees

Stripped of everything, the Syrian refugees have either been subjected to, or have witnessed, atrocities and the trauma they have suffered is immense. So an MSF team of two psychiatrists, one psychologist and two social workers deliver mental health consultations twice a week in three camps. At the beginning of May 2015, almost 150 people were benefiting from their assistance.

“As soon as they arrive, patients are seen by a psychiatrist who determines whether they need psychological or psychiatric care or psycho-social support from our social workers,” explains Frédéric. MSF is one of the few aid agencies providing mental health services.

Assistance to displaced Iraqis

MSF holds mobile clinics in south and west Erbil to offer displaced Iraqis access to medical care. Two doctors, a pharmacist and a nurse give an average of almost 500 primary healthcare consultations every week. These displaced people suffer not only from respiratory infections—particularly common in winter—but also from chronic diseases. With no source of income, they can no longer obtain the drugs they need to treat their diabetes or blood pressure. “Our medical team also sees many cases of skin infections, notably scabies, because of the poor living conditions the displaced are subjected to,” adds Frédéric.

While the fighting continues in both Syria and Iraq, MSF is looking to address the lack of healthcare provision and is considering extending its mental health programme to displaced Iraqis in urban areas. The organisation also continues to increase its mobile clinics in zones close to the frontline to gain access to as many displaced people as possible.

According to UNHCR, there are currently over 100,000 Syrians in the Erbil region, around 27,000 of whom have found refuge in camps in Kawergosk, Darashakran and Gawilan. And these refugees are in addition to the over 10,000 Iraqis displaced within their own country now living in the same region. These Iraqis, who fled from the violence after Mosul fell, are doing what they can to survive in very precarious conditions.