As refugee numbers in Domeez grow, MSF scales up emergency response


The registered number of refugees gathering at the Domeez camp, near the city of Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, is increasing daily. While 700 to 1,000 newcomers are registering every day, the services provided in the camp remain insufficient to cope with mounting needs.

Every day up to 1,000 people cross the border between Syria and the Kurdish region of Iraq. People travel hours across rocky roads to escape from Syria.

“We left because of war,” says a woman. “We came from Qamishli. The city is completely besieged, there’s no fuel for heaters, no water, no electricity. The trip was really difficult and long because we went through the mountains. I have five very young children and they all had to walk. We had to go through much suffering to get here but thank God we arrived.”

Domeez camp was established in Duhok province in April 2012 and was initially designed to host 1,000 families. But with more than 35,000 people the camp is now overcrowded and the level of assistance is clearly insufficient. Despite the efforts of the local authorities, the camp is stretched to its full capacity and aid workers struggle to keep up with the needs of all the residents.

Today, the lack of shelter for newcomers is critical. Most of the newly arrived refugees must share tents, blankets, mattresses and even their food with other families.

Present in the only clinic in the camp, MSF provides an average of 3,500 consultations per week and has doubled the number of human resources working on the project. The pathologies observed in our consultations are mainly related to poor living conditions aggravated by the bitter winter that hit the region earlier this year. "In our consultations half of the patients we see suffer from respiratory infections says Emilie KHALED MSF field coordinator. “Proximity, with more than ten people sharing the same tent, contributes to the spread of diseases. Today, with milder temperatures and very poor water and sanitation system we are seeing an increase in diarrhoea cases. Urgent solutions must be found to improve people’s living conditions in the camp.”

MSF activities in Domeez
Since May 2012, MSF is the main health actor in Domeez refugee camp. MSF teams provide general health care as well as mental health care. MSF has also started a reproductive health program.

To respond to the influx of people into the camp, MSF has reinforced its teams bringing to 60 the total number of international and national staff employed by the organisation.

To date, MSF medical teams have provided more than 64,800 consultations and are planning to vaccinate against measles 31,000 people between the ages of six months and 30 years.

In addition, MSF also distributes hygiene kits and conducts water supply and sanitation. Since mid-January, MSF teams distributed 160,000 litres of water to 1,800 families. Over the past week MSF distributed 3,500 hygiene kits and plans to distribute 4,500 additional kits by the end of April.

More than a million people have fled the civil war in Syria to neighbouring countries. Among them, many have decided to flee to Iraq. According to UNHCR, as of end of March 2013, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) hosts over 125,000 Syrian refugees.

Story of a refugee man – father of four
“We were living in a farming area. They invaded our village at 5 in the morning. We were sitting inside. My youngest daughter came to us saying: ‘Baba, the army is outside’. So we went out to see. The regime soldiers held their rifles in our backs saying ‘if you move we will shoot you’.

I was afraid they would hurt me. My wife was pregnant and out of fear, she told them: ‘my husband has done nothing wrong’. So they gave us our IDs back and left. Every other day they used to come back to our area, they would break our doors and windows.

My children wouldn’t stop crying, they were terrified. So we left our farm and ran away to Qamishli. Here we are staying with another family, we don’t have enough blankets. All my kids are sick because of the cold.

There are so many people in our situation. The authorities are working hard but they can’t deal with such a huge number of people. We are registered with the UNHCR as refugees.  We registered with everybody, filled the forms, all the papers are with me. But again the number of people is so big, some people are living in the streets. The authorities and the organisations can’t cope with all the needs.”