No harm spares refugees in Syria
Wednesday 1 April 2020
What the Covid-19 virus means for refugees in Syria
After the opposition's only fallback area in Idlib has been repeatedly attacked from the air and on the ground, it is now the Covid-19 virus that threatens, in addition to bombs, grenades and hunger, the one million refugees already badly affected in the Idlib region. Caritas Luxembourg has been supporting people in need in this region for years, mainly by providing food and shelter.
What does the Covid-19 virus mean for these people? We ask Dr. med Michael Feit, doctor and responsible for international cooperation at Caritas Luxembourg :
Even if the figures say otherwise and so far only 5 cases have been reported, Covid-19 has also arrived in Syria, in almost all parts of the country. As there are hardly any containment measures in place at the moment, the virus will spread rapidly. The expected disaster is currently either ignored by officials or taken lightly.
What risk does Covid-19 pose to the Idlib region?
The risk is enormous. Here in Luxembourg, we are pursuing 3 strategies: slowing down the spread of the virus, increasing health capacities and protecting vulnerable people.
But how can "social distancing" be applied when thousands of people live together in refugee camps in a confined space? Running water is rarely available. How can everyone wash their hands often enough?
Hospitals have been systematically attacked in recent weeks. They're completely overcrowded anyway, even without Covid-19. Nearly 100 healthcare facilities have been hit or closed since December. The number of respirators is minimal. There are not enough staff or epidemiological expertise. It will not be possible to treat all Covid-19 patients in hospitals.
It is not possible to isolate the elderly. To survive, they need to be cared for by their families or get everything they need, if possible. They are lucky if they do not die from cold, hunger and bombing. They are willing to accept a "flu" for that. To sum up, a colleague pointed out the other day: "As soon as the virus reaches the camps, we will slide into disaster". And the time is near. But we cannot test for it.
How is the mood of the colleagues in the Idlib partner organisation?
At the moment, they all feel powerless: powerless against the virus, powerless against the situation that remains unchanged for the refugees. A return would often mean certain death, but the borders remain - still - closed.
What is Caritas doing to prevent the spread of Covid-19?
As I said, I think it's too late. We are helping to slow the spread by distributing soap and disinfectants and we are also protecting our staff. Most importantly, we stay with those in need and do not go away. These people will soon need us more than ever. I personally expect 100,000 deaths if the WHO pandemic plan does not work.
Caritas Luxembourg is appealing to the generosity of the public. People who wish to support the most vulnerable in the current coronavirus pandemic can do so by making a donation by transfer to the account of Caritas Luxembourg (CCPL) IBAN LU34 1111 0000 2020 0000 with the mention "Urgence Coronavirus - aide internationale" or by going to the dedicated webpage.