Inici || Castellano | English
facebook twitter youtube issuu picasa rss

Syria, when self-isolating is not possible

By Carme Suñé Minguella, vicepresident of FundiPau

Published in in Catalan the 15/4/2020

The arrival of Covid-19 has been like a tsunami that has put our lives upside down from one day to the next. Our Health Systems are stretched to the limit, the streets aren’t ours anymore –if they were ever to be only ours– because the immense majority of us have been self-isolating in our homes for more than three weeks and we have been experiencing unwanted and sudden social distance, which makes the need to take care of our emotional wellbeing more urgent than ever in order to try to avoid falling into gloom, fear, anxiety, and anguish, which the menace of this global pandemic can trigger in us.

Despite suffering the devastating effects of this tsunami, we should be able to reach our gaze further than our homes, than our people, than our city or than our land, and make visible that in other lands, far away and not that far, the effects of this same virus can be catastrophic. This is the new threat that Syria is now facing, a country that has just entered the tenth year of a war that has already caused more than half a million deaths and more than a hundred thousand arbitrary detentions, and that has displaced more than half of the population that the country had before 2011.

All over the country, there are hundreds of thousands of people who can’t self-isolate in their homes because they don’t have one anymore, and they can’t practise social distance because in many areas tens of thousands of families live in very poor conditions, piled up in improvised camps. Meanwhile, in prisons and detention centres a coronavirus outbreak would be impossible to contain because of the conditions in which most of these centres are found. People who are detained in these centres are caged in small crowded underground unclean cells and they don’t have their basic fundamental rights guaranteed, such as medical care, proper food and access to water and personal hygiene. The situation of high vulnerability that nearly 100.000 detained and disappeared people suffer is the reason why the association Families for Freedom has started an International campaign to demand urgent action, in the face of the spread of the pandemic of the new virus, to free all the people retained in prisons and detention centres.  

The situation for the rest of the population in the 70% of the country that is now again under government control is also very worrying. According to the activist and teacher in Lausanne University, Joseph Daher, the precarious economic situation, the destruction of infrastructures and the lack of the most basic services as a consequence of more than nine years of war, have already triggered protests against the dire life conditions in the province of Sweida and more recently in the province of Daraa and the rural areas around Damascus. The propagation of Covid-19 would be a tragedy for millions of Syrian people who live in areas in which the government has the absolute control of information about the propagation of the virus. Good examples of such control are the prohibition for doctors to make any comments on the situation or the obstacles that the government is setting up to the collaboration with international agencies in the framework of the pandemics.

In order to prevent the spread of the new virus, the government has restricted the limited economic activity that existed in a country where 80% of the population is poor and is only able to survive if they can find work on a daily basis. Not being able to do this, inevitably leads them to the most extreme poverty. Some local initiatives of solidarity have come up in order to try to cover the most basic needs of thousands of families in Damascus, Lattakia, Tartous, Sweida, Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Daraa, and also awareness campaigns headed by local NGOs in order to make the preventive measures against the expansion of the virus known. Unfortunately, Al-Assad’s regime perceives these local initiatives as a thread to his own social nets and mostly to his authority, and asks that every kind of help and donation be exclusively channelled through the registered entities in the ministry of social affairs. Damascus needs to secure its authority and will not doubt on using the pandemics of Covid-19 in order to consolidate its authoritarianism and thwart any attempts of social dissent.

The humanitarian and health situation in Rojava, in the north east, has also deteriorated after suffering a war operation headed by Turkey. The bombardments in the border area displaced hundreds of thousands of people that are now in a very vulnerable situation when facing the new virus, and water has become, as it is often the case in areas of conflict, a war weapon. According to Human Rights Watch sources in the region, Turkey has decided to cut off the water supply lines of the Kurdish territories in this area of the country. Half a million people do not have guaranteed access to water, especially those who survive in refugee camps, where without water to wash their hands they are deprived of the only preventive measure to avoid getting the new virus. Deep into a health crisis, the lack of water can create struggle amongst the population and it is unacceptable that, once more, the speculation of a first necessity good is used to favour private interests.

After nine years of war and intentional bombardments of hospitals, health infrastructures – almost 500 according to OMS – and medical staff, the Health System of the country is devastated. The province of Idlib is where the destruction of health infrastructures is more serious because of the indiscriminate bombardments of the Russian and the Syrian government air forces. Since December 2019 these attacks against civil population have been the cause of the forced displacement of nearly a million people, 80% of which are displaced women and children, in many cases, coming from other areas of the country towards the border with Turkey. In the border, they are piled up in improvised camps without the minimal hygiene and health conditions. Humanitarian organizations are giving the alert of an unprecedented health catastrophe if the pandemics hits these camps of displaced people, which are already overflowing with people. United Nations has asked for a cease fire all over the country in order to be able to face the thread of the new virus, but according to the Syrian Observatory forHuman Rights, government forces keep on bombarding towns in the area without considering the truce agreed upon by Russia and Turkey, and they keep on making the situation worse for most of the more than three million inhabitants that the province of Idlib has nowadays. It is very unrealistic to think that a health emergency such as the one presented by Covid-19 can be faced in these conditions.

Syria is still being forgotten by practically everyone, while the serious humanitarian crises reported a long time ago by the United Nations and International and local organisations is now worsened by the coronavirus, which can provoke a health catastrophe in prisons and detention centres, and among the refugee population in the north west and north east, and can leave millions of people all over the country in the most extreme poverty. A social worker in Idlib uploaded a picture on social networks that makes visible the paradoxes that are affecting the refugee and displaced population in Covid-19 times. The picture shows a girl in front of a tent holding a sign that reads:

“Stay home…..I wish I can”