Since October 2020, some 25,000 Iraqis living in formal camps for displaced people have been returned to their areas of origin, as the government of Iraq begins the process of camp closures. While returning home is a dream come true for many people, for others, insecurity, a lack of shelter and an absence of services await them, making camp closures a nightmare.
Concerns about returning
“Even if they want to close the camp, they should not send us to our home areas now,” one woman told MSF staff. “They need to provide safety for us. Because of many tribal issues and insecurity, many people cannot go back to their villages.”
In some cases, returnees face possible violence and arrest if they are suspected of affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) group. Stigma in Iraq against anyone suspected of links with the IS group means that some people are extremely fearful for their family’s safety.
“When some of my neighbours went back, they were verbally assaulted and had to hide from local people – they were afraid they would be hurt,” adds the woman.
The camp was established in 2014 after conflict broke out in several Iraqi towns like Hawija and Salah Al-Din, forcing many people to flee their homes. Several camp residents told MSF that they have nothing to return to.
“Our house has been destroyed,” said one woman. “We have young children and we don’t know how we’ll manage if we are sent back. The weather is getting colder and colder each day. We have no salary to rent a house to keep safe and warm. Laylan camp is safe for us and we have water and electricity. If we are sent away, we’ll have no water or electricity. How can we manage without these services in our daily life?”
Interrupting medical care
Many residents also rely on the medical care they are receiving within the camp, while access to healthcare for displaced people outside the camp is limited.
“MSF is treating 300 patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the camp; they require uninterrupted lifelong treatment and care,” says Gul Badshah, MSF head of mission in Iraq. “With this rapid closure, there is no time for MSF to provide patients with medication to cover a three-month period until they manage to access another health facility. We don't have time to prepare the medical files they need to enrol in another NCD programme without interrupting their treatment.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presents another concern for MSF teams. “Our concern is that patients may have to move out of the camp in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Badshah. “There are eight confirmed COVID-19 cases in the camp’s isolation area. It is not clear how the patients would be transferred and how quickly they would get access to medical care.”
MSF urges the Iraqi authorities to reconsider their decision to imminently close Laylan camp and to ensure that future returns are made in a more transparent, voluntary, safe and dignified manner.
Notes to editor
MSF in Iraq
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been working in Iraq since 1991. With more than 1,500 staff in its projects country-wide, MSF provides free, high-quality healthcare for all people regardless of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.
MSF delivers primary and secondary healthcare, services for expectant and new mothers, treatment for chronic diseases, surgery and rehabilitation for war-wounded, mental health support and health education activities. We currently work in the governorates of Baghdad, Nineveh and Kirkuk. We have also supported local health facilities in the southern provinces of Najaf and Dhi Qar in recent months with preparedness for mass casualty incidents. In 2019, MSF provided over 45,000 consultations for patients across Iraq for those suffering from chronic diseases, as well as over 34,000 consultations for maternity and reproductive health.
MSF’s COVID-19 response in Iraq
COVID-19 remains an emergency in Iraq. In Baghdad, MSF is supporting Al-Kindi hospital, where we are currently working in a 24-bed COVID-19 ward for severe and critical patients. Our teams helped in the respiratory care unit (RCU), providing bedside training for staff, including ventilation use, drug use, and techniques adapted for the treatment of COVID-19. In Mosul, MSF’s post-operative care centre was transformed during the early stage of the pandemic into a COVID-19 facility and, on November 22, opened a 16-bed COVID-19 intensive care unit in Al-Salam hospital. MSF helped (in July, August and September) local health facilities in Erbil and Dohuk by providing technical support, logistic support and training for their staff on infection prevention and control (IPC). In Laylan camp (Kirkuk governorate), MSF has mobilized a 20-bed caravan isolation and treatment facility and continues to implement triage measures for any suspected COVID-19 patients. Our teams distributed reusable cloth masks to Laylan camp residents and raised awareness about prevention measures there.