The economic strain has also hindered Iraqi minorities’ efforts to rebuild their communities, including medical infrastructure needs.
“Many Yazidis (Ezidis/Yezidis) want to return to Sinjar, but security, reconstruction and basic services are still lacking to allow a dignified return. There are currently only two hospitals and just one ventilator to assist the current population of around 160,000 people in the region,” the NGOs’ statement explained.
Iraq’s healthcare system, which has suffered for decades from the effects of sanctions and war, currently faces a critical shortage of doctors and medicine, according to a Reuters investigation. Hospitals in Iraq are already overcrowded and doctors overworked, while the healthcare situation is slightly better in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which has its own health ministry.
There have been at least 1,600 cases of COVID-19 documented in Iraq, which is under pressure to reopen its border with Iran, which has had more than 85,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
Humanitarian workers have also had trouble reaching those in need due to movement restrictions, and have raised concerns about the risk of an outbreak in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
Social distancing is very difficult in these high-density IDP camps in Iraq, where 1.8 million people remain displaced due to insecurity and reconstruction needs, according to the UN.
The 25 NGOs called for the government of Iraq and the United Nations to provide testing capacity in the IDP camps in Sinjar, Tel Afar and the Nineveh Plains.
“At present, it is impossible to apprehend the extent of the spread of the virus because no testing for the disease is taking place in the camps, while restrictions of movement impede the work of humanitarian actors who provide basic essentials such as food, water and medicine,” they stated.
Psychological risk for trauma survivors
Genocide survivors with trauma also face increased personal risk of psychological harm amid isolation imposed by coronavirus measures.
As in much of the world, authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan have ordered people to stay home, imposed a curfew, and have closed places of worship, schools, restaurants, and most businesses.
(Story continues below)
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“Another alarming corollary of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq is the psychological impact on at-risk communities, including Yazidis, Turkmen and Christians, such as Assyrians,” it said.
This is a particular concern for the Yazidi communities in which thousands of women were victims of sexual violence by the Islamic State.
“Prior to the outbreak, Médecins Sans Frontières reported on a debilitating mental health crisis among Yazidis in Iraq, including a rising number of suicides,” it stated.
Suicides in this community have already been reported since social distancing measures were put into place, the NGOs reported. They called on the World Health Organization to address this “acute mental health crisis.”
In their appeal to the WHO and Iraqi government, the NGOs insisted that the stakes were high:
“COVID-19 is a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen before. Survivors of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes are now waiting for this silent death to pass through the camps and their homes, unable to fight back.”