Faced with the virus, the impossible distance in the overcrowded camps of Syria

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Physical distancing, masks, washing hands? These measures to protect themselves from the new coronavirus are impossible in the overcrowded and destitute camps for displaced people in northwestern Syria where cases have exploded.

“We live in shelters stuck to each other”, deplores Hassan Sweidane, in a camp on the outskirts of the town of Qah, in the province of Idleb, after having been displaced for years by the fighting in the country at war .

Since the emergence of cases of contamination in the last great jihadist and rebel stronghold of Idleb, on the Turkish border, humanitarian workers have warned of a health disaster in the camps for displaced people, pointing to an erratic supply of water and lack of medical infrastructure.

In just one month, the number of cases has increased six-fold in northwestern Syria, according to the UN. And cases are on the rise in the camps.

Taking a shower or washing your hands is sometimes a luxury in these informal camps. And with widespread poverty, it is difficult to afford masks or disinfection products.

A 41-year-old father of six, Mr. Sweidane fears the virus all the more because he suffers from cirrhosis of the liver.

“A loved one has been infected. I am very scared, because I have no immunity, ”explains the man with the bushy beard, seated in the concrete room which serves as his home.

“Let us die”

“In the camps, we cannot place ourselves in quarantine”, further deplores Mr. Sweidane. Nearby hospitals “are overcrowded, we are afraid of being (in contact) with doctors and nurses and of being contaminated”.

In the sectors of Idleb dominated by the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Cham (ex-Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), but also in the neighboring areas held by the Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries in the north of the province of ‘Aleppo, the Covid-19 disease has exploded.

The Health Directorate, affiliated with the Syrian opposition and supervising the health situation in these two regions, has officially identified 5,075 cases, including 42 deaths.

On a daily basis, the number of contaminations sometimes exceeds 300, against a few dozen previously. More than 860 cases have been recorded within the medical profession and around 330 in the camps.

“We are afraid of illness, we do not dare to go out,” says Ghatwa al-Mohamed, an octogenarian with a face streaked with wrinkles, sitting on the ground in her tent.

“We live on top of each other,” she said, pitting olives. “We don’t know what to do anymore. If only God could let us die and give us peace. “

” How to live ” ?

The jump in cases is also linked according to the UN to the increase in tests, two additional laboratories having opened in the north of Aleppo, in addition to the main one located in Idleb.

But with “overpopulation”, it is difficult to isolate yourself, recognizes the international organization.

In the premises of the Directorate of Health in Idleb, the doctor Yehya Nehmé evokes the successive waves of massive displacements which accompanied each offensive of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and his Russian ally.

Because in Idleb, the three million inhabitants of the insurgent zones are piling up in a territory that has only shrunk over the course of these offensives. Nearly half are also displaced people living in camps, according to the UN.

“We hold the regime’s forces and Russia responsible for the tragic situation of the displaced,” denounces Mr. Nehmé, who admits that social distancing in overcrowded camps “is almost impossible”.

“They tell us not to leave our homes, not to gather, but we live in tents separated by only half a meter from each other”, plague Mohamed al-Omar, a forty-something father of four children .

“They only distributed a mask to people over the age of five, but it’s not enough. “

For this tanker driver, who travels around his camp to sell water, it is impossible to confine himself. “If I stay in my tent, how am I going to live and eat? “

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