Iraq’s conflict-destructed Sinjar region may become a “disaster area” if the COVID-19 pandemic spreads there, health and aid workers warned.
The region in northern Iraq has struggled to recover from a genocide in 2014, when the Islamic State group swept across the area and massacred thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority.
The intervention of air strikes and fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) eventually led to the governorate being retaken from IS, but control of the area has remained contested since then. The Iraqi government, Kurdistan Region government and the PKK remain in contest for power over the region, neither of them helping the region to rebuild.
In addition to the dire situation, thousands of people remain housed in international displaced people (IDP) camps, including on Sinjar mountain.
Hussein Rasho, a doctor who was working in Sinjar until 10 days ago, said that although there had been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the conditions in the area mean the impact would be devastating.
“There is no good care from the government. All of the funding and facilities are coming from international organisations and sometimes local organisations,” he told us. “If an outbreak happens, it will be a disaster area.”
Rasho, who can’t travel to Sinjar now, as there is s a government-imposed countrywide lockdown, said there are only two main hospitals in the district left standing after the IS rampage: Sinuny Hospital and Sinjar Hospital. There are only about 20 beds in each hospital, and both rely on foreign organisations for resources and equipment. As most countries have been on lockdown since the COVID-19 outbreak, the world seems to have forgotten the Sinjar region.
“Lack of hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment. There is a problem as soon as the virus hits – and of course we don’t know whether there are cases now because there is no testing,” dr. Rasho told us, seemingly concerned about the people in the region.
Rasho also added that his main concern came from the border with Syria, and Kurdish groups travelling among Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
“The YPG and PKK are still moving from Iraq to Syria, especially through the Rabia and Sinjar illegitimate border crossings, so I think if something happens it will be very bad,” he said. “The whole world is on lockdown, borders have been closed for nearly two months but they just keep coming and going.”
“The PKK members from Turkey and Syria are joining the others in Sinjar, so it will be a source of infection because they are crossing the border, they have their own rules and their own routes and even before then no one could stop them.”
The PKK has maintained a foothold in Sinjar through the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi-majority organisation that has clashed with other Kurdish groups, including those supported by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The presence of the PKK is the main reason the region cannot be rebuilt, as they clash with every organisation – be it affiliated to the Iraqi or Kurdistan Region government – that sets foot in the region.