DRC Supports Refugees’ Access to Key Services in Earthquake-Affected Zones
“Receiving my treatment became a nightmare."
Posted on 11 Sep 2023
Written by Nadine Al Lahham
Maher is a Syrian refugee living in Iskenderun, Hatay. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which put him in a precarious situation. Since the Feb 6th earthquakes caused extensive damage to most public and private hospitals in Antakya and Iskenderun, he had difficulties accessing to health services he needed. Although the Ministry of Health and some NGOs established some field hospitals, those efforts are not sufficient to meet the needs given the scale of destruction.
“Only general practitioners and very basic medications are available in those hospitals People with chronic diseases had to leave to other provinces to receive medical treatment if they were financially able to do so,” says Zaher Taha, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) protection team leader in Hatay.
Maher is checking his medical report at a hospital in Adana. Many people in Hatay have to go to other provinces to receive health care after the earthquake destroyed many hospitals.
Nadine Al Lahham
What made the conditions harder was the loss of jobs as a result of the disaster. Many refugees lost their sources of income, which made it hard for them to leave for other provinces. Maher is a freelance graphic designer. At present, he can only cover his basic needs. “I have to stay in my apartment although it is partially affected,” he said. “There are very few undamaged apartments left and they are too expensive. Going to another city where services are available will create additional expenses which I am not able to afford at present.”
He had to resume his treatment through nuclear therapy, which was a big problem for him too. The available hospitals in Iskenderun do not have the equipment for that kind of therapy. The only solution was to go to a hospital in the nearest province, but that also created another challenge for him. Maher was unable to ride a bus on the way back because his treatment involved radiation. As a result, he needed to stay away from people, especially pregnant women and children. At the same time, he could not afford to pay for a private car.
“I did not want to cause any harm to anyone. I did not know what to do.”
/ Maher, a Syrian graphic designer and individual protection intervention beneficiary
One of his friends suggested seeking help from the DRC. Maher contacted the DRC team and explained his situation. Funded by the European Union through its Humanitarian Aid Operations, the Individual Protection Intervention (IPI) provides tailored assistance for refugees in vulnerable situations depending on their protection risks. Maher was not the only person who was facing difficulties in accessing health care. “It is not only about the scarcity of health facilities in Hatay,” says Raneem Kajjam, the protection manager in Hatay. “People cannot reach the field hospitals here because the public transportation is really limited. We started providing transportation for specific cases to go to field hospitals and even paying for bus tickets so refugees can go to other cities for treatment. For Maher’s case, we knew we could not provide the same assistance because he would risk others people’s lives, so we had to do something about it.”
The DRC team paid for his bus transport to be sent to the Public Hospital in Adana for his nuclear treatment. Maher finished his three doses of therapy. He still needs to continue his treatment, but the most critical time is over.
Maher is going to Adana Public Hospital after DRC supported him with transportation. Many refugees in need of healthcare lack the financial resources to pay for transportation to other provinces.
“I felt that assistance was a gift from heaven. DRC saved me."
/ Maher, a Syrian graphic designer and an individual protection intervention beneficiary
Despite the fact that Maher can proceed by himself, people in Hatay still need help as the infrastructure will need time to be rebuilt. Until then, DRC is currently working on filling the gaps in this difficult time to make sure that everyone is able to reach the essential services they need.