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Stuck in No Man's Land between Iraq and Jordan
April 28, 2003
About 1000 people are currently caught between the border posts of Jordan and Iraq. At the moment Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing medical care with a doctor and two nurses in a clinic in the camp. Over the weekend the team will have added another nurse, doctor, and logistician.
Some of the people come from the Al Tash refugee camp, which is located some 150 kilometers west of Baghdad. The population of this camp is reported to be 13,000. These refugees have told MSF that they have been in the camp for over 20 years and they fled after the fall of Saddam Hussein when they were attacked by local people around the camp. MSF has been unable to visit the camp because security is too uncertain in the area.
To date, the refugees are in reasonably good health. However, many have slept in the open before getting into a tent in the border zone. There are often eye problems from the wind and sand storms. There are cases of diarrhea and respiratory infections but not to alarming levels. There are a very high proportion of children – some 60% of the group are under 15 years old. A lot of them have respiratory and eye infections. There is also a problem with a number of people in dire need of medicines for chronic complaints.
The refugees' situation could quickly deteriorate, because the place they are having to live in is entirely unsuitable for a refugee camp. The climate in the area is extreme, with the blinding desert dust. Water is a problem, as there is no adequate source near the camp. Drinking water has to be trucked in from the refugee camps that are set up (but unused) 50 kilometers away in Jordan. Latrines are still under construction and garbage disposal is erratic. These conditions create a risk.
An MSF nurse sums up the frustration of the team working in the camp: “It is difficult to see the hard conditions the people endure, when a perfectly set up refugee camp is just 50 kilometers away which cost millions of dollars and is now almost empty”.
MSF is also carrying out mental health assessments. These people live under great distress, and are very uncertain about their future. They are desperate to leave Iraq, as they feel there is no future from them in the country. They have lost all hope after living in their previous camp for 23 years, where they were completely dependent on assistance.
MSF believes these people have a right to seek asylum and has been addressing this issue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Jordanian authorities. We still hope that something can be resolved in the near future.