Northern Iraq: Not prepared for streams of refugees

Joachim Schoen
The news that the USA have agreed to let Turkish troops enter Northern Iraq comes at a time when international relief organisations are quite unprepared. There are fears that a wave of Kurdish refugees will head for Iran. The fact that hundreds of thousands of refugees are already leaving the cities in Northern Iraq in fear of poison gas attacks by Sadam Hussein, means that this could become a serious problem. Up until a few days ago the situation was considered to be not particularly dangerous. During talks in Teheran with the authorities and also with UNHCR and UNICEF, humedica's manager, Joerg Leggewie, was told that plans for refugee camps north of Baghdad had been scrapped fairly early on. Members of these organisations are very much in favour of humedica operating in Northern Iraq.

Humedica plans to send in medical teams which can operate in Iran or Northern Iraq as required, depending on how the refugee situation develops. humedica aims at providing medical treatment for several thousand people. Teams could operate in a refugee camp on the northern Iraqi-Iranian border. Refugees could also be treated in Kurdish Northern Iraq, where thousands have already fled from the cities into the mountains in fear of gas attacks. Mobile ambulance stations could be used in this case.

At the same time emergency supplies are already being organised for ship- ment to Ammaan (Jordan). From there, partner organisations will take them to refugee camps on the border or, if possible, directly into Iraq. The first container with 30 palettes of baby food and bandages, donated by Hipp and Nestle, will be leaving within the next few days.

One vital criterion for humanitarian aid in Iraq is flexibility in organising operations so that, when the fighting has stopped, teams can be sent to where- ever they are most urgently needed. For years, the centre and south of the country, within Sadam Hussein's sphere of influence, have been suffering from an extreme lack of medical care - children and old people being worst hit. Apart from aid for the refugees, the possibilities for rebuilding Iraq's medical structures will also be examined.

According to how the war develops, Joerg Leggewie, our project co-ordinator, will shortly be travelling to Northern Iraq. At present he would only be too glad to provide more information. It will also be possible to contact him in Northern Iraq via satellite telephone. Our press spokesman, Joachim Schoen, (Tel. 08341/966148-45 or 0170/8001551 or ) will pass on instructions as how to contact Mr. Leggewie or give any other information you may require.