As the world battles the greatest pandemic of the century, the situation in Syria has gone under the radar of most nations, international organizations and human rights groups. After nine years of war, Syria is facing deep divisions within its borders that will make it difficult to battle coronavirus. Rival groups are finding it impossible to work together amid a nation with crippled medical infrastructure and poor sanitation. The international community does not know the severity of the coronavirus situation in Syria due to lack of access to testing. It is predicted that the numbers of COVID-19 cases in Syria are much higher than recorded, especially with many Syrians living close together in camps.
Reports from Syria indicate that medical personnel operating in the Kurdish controlled northeastern territory are using garbage bags as protective gear while treating COVID-19 positive patients. Although the Kurds were instrumental in the fight against ISIS, Kurdistan has been left behind by its long-standing American allies. In addition, the United Nations supply shipments going to Kurdistan by way of Iraq have been vetoed by Russia in hopes of quelling Kurdish opposition against the Assad regime.
Syrians living in refugee camps both inside and outside Syria are at high risk for contracting the disease. While much of the world is being advised to stay home, those living in camps are forced to live in close quarters, making quarantine measures nearly impossible to enforce. The combination of close living conditions and poor access to sanitation, makes camps a lethal environment during an outbreak.
The Jordanian government and the United Nations are aware that Za’atari refugee camp, which is home to over 76,000 Syrian refugees has the potential to turn into a major breeding ground for the virus if necessary precautions are not taken. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world on its people and has been successful at mitigating the spread of the virus so far. Jordanian authorities are taking the same precautions in Za’atari and other camps in the Kingdom. Humanitarian groups that operate in Za’atari camp are reporting that the main thoroughfare, which is usually bustling with people visiting shops, food stands and bakeries, is empty.
However, for refugees living in camps in Syria, they are not as fortunate. Because of the divisions that exist in Syria, it is difficult to enforce the same quarantine measures as in Jordan. Refugees are left with no good option; they can either face the prospect of developing COVID-19 in a camp with little to no medical infrastructure or return to destroyed towns with the threat of the Assad regime still looming.
Since the start of the war, Syria has been left in the shadow of unfulfilled promises by the international community and the international response to Syria’s COVID-19 outbreak is hardly surprising. Even the World Health Organization has failed on its promise to deliver ventilators, protective equipment and others supplies to Syria. The lack of international support will only deepen divisions that already exist within the country. As the virus spreads across the Arab Republic, it will exacerbate Syria’s already dire situation.