Iraq: Providing Health Care to Syrian Refugees in Domeez Camp

Erico Hiller

More then 50,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Iraq, including 42,000 in the Kurdistan region where many live in overcrowded camps.

Iraq 2012 © MSF

An MSF staff member examines a young patient at the primary health care center in Domeez camp.

Domeez camp, near the city of Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, was set up at the beginning of 2012 and is now serving as a temporary home for nearly 15,000 Syrian refugees of Kurdish origin. Since May 2012, Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières(MSF) has been running a 24-hour clinic in the camp, in collaboration with Dohuk’s Department of Health.

As the camp’s main health provider, MSF has been offering medical consultations and mental health care to the refugees, while also providing training for local health staff. To date, MSF teams have provided more than 20,500 consultations.

“Until June, there were about 2,000 people settled in Domeez, and the camp was running well,” says Anja Wolz, MSF field coordinator in Dohuk. “But in August, the situation deteriorated because of a sudden massive arrival of refugees. With up to 1,000 people crossing the border each day [at the time], the camp quickly became overcrowded and, despite the efforts of the authorities, the level of assistance was clearly insufficient.”

For the past few months, major efforts have been made to improve the situation before the onset of winter. But at present, as roughly 500 people cross the border into Dohuk governorate each day, some of the newly arrived refugees in Domeez camp still have to share tents, blankets, mattresses, and food with other families. 

“I arrived with two of my children, but had to leave my husband and my two other daughters behind,” says a middle-aged Syrian woman. “We walked for more than six hours to cross the border. We don’t have our own tent yet, so we must share with another family. I have a kidney stone and it is very painful. Since we arrived here I have been lying down all the time because of the pain. I need surgery to remove the stone. Here, we Syrians suffer from sickness, but also from the difficult situation we have gone through.” 

Most of the refugees in Domeez arrived with nothing, having left everything behind in Syria. Once in Iraq, they are issued with a six-month renewable residence permit by the Kurdish authorities, which allows them to look for work. Most find jobs as daily laborers. People who have been here for some time have begun to build extensions to their shelters, and some have opened small shops within the camp. 

Some of the refugees have had no news from their families back in Syria, and many report having lost family members as a result of the violence. 

“In our consultations, we see many patients suffering from psychological distress,” says Wolz. “So in August we decided to open a mental health program to provide them with specific care.” By the end of September, MSF’s mental health team had carried over 290 psychological consultations.