Laura Leyser is the managing director of Doctors Without Borders, she was in Iraq for two weeks in July. A country that is mainly known from images of war. She wrote down her impressions for us …
An embarrassed look. A shocked one "I heard you have to go to Iraq". This is how I was met by friends and family in the weeks before my trip to Iraq. My answer, with a beaming face: "No, I can go to Iraq". And while by far the Curiosity, joy and excitement dominated, I still felt a little queasy. Who does not know the terrible war images from Iraq. Who hasn't heard of the Islamic State (IS) group and its atrocities … How do you think it is there?
My first impression: unbelievable heat. During my two-week stay, the thermometer climbed well over 40 degrees every day, often over 45 degrees. Colleagues had warned me about the "hot air oven feeling". Deep respect for the people who in this heat, sometimes even in the sun, having to work and be physically active. Fortunately, our hospitals have air conditioning systems, even if they have to be run by generators for many hours a day because there is often no electricity. And this situation is getting worse because electricity companies are a new popular Attack target for terrorist groups are in Iraq.
My second impression, at least in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan: a lot more relaxed than I expected have. Yes, it is a big city with around a million inhabitants, but it still looks manageable and culturally diverse. I meet at least as many women on the street without a headscarf as with one. That also relaxes me and gives me the courage to dive into the hustle and bustle and explore the city.
Soon we will continue to our locations, the real reason why I am in Iraq. The first stop is Mosul. Shortly after we leave Erbil, I have to too wear a headscarf. It's hot. But somehow - under a headscarf, FFP2 mask and sunglasses - also pleasantly anonymous.
Several checkpoints have to be passed, but we are making good progress. The closer we get to Mosul, the greater the destruction. The refugee camps that I see as I drive past affect me. Hundreds of tents in the middle of nowhere in the scorching heat and not even a single tree. What a hard life for the people who have to live here …
In Mosul itself there is hardly a house that doesn’t have machine gun bullets Has. It is immediately visible that an unbelievable amount of rubble has already been removed from the city, but it will take several years before the remaining rubble and the burned-out cars are also removed. Closer to the center, the destruction is almost unimaginable. Entire blocks of houses bombed. Mosques. Churches. There are even supposed to have been synagogues here in the past. A city about the size of Vienna that has had a huge nightmare behind it. And yet is new life everywhere. Shops are open, there are small restaurants and cafes, children play between the ruins of a stadium, I only see few women in public.
Doctors Without Borders' hospital is in West Mosul, the part of the city where the IS group has ruled the longest. Where the fight and the Destruction was strongest. Many of my local colleagues tell me about the traumatic time among the IS group. It is unimaginable how something like this can simply "happen" in our time. And how urgent and important is the psychological support that we offer in our hospital for everyone.
In the hospital we mainly help expectant mothers, newborns and children. Between 700 and 1,000 children see the light of day here every month. Thanks to our operating room, we can also help difficult births to have a happy outcome. It is very busy and I am deeply impressed by what our teams are doing here and how important our work is here. But I am also saddened when I see that we are not helping all babies and children because we simply don't have the same opportunities here as in Austria, for example. Once again I painfully realize that myself and my children are the "Birth lottery" won to have. Gratitude. But also a feeling of injustice.
After a few days it goes further west, almost to the Syrian border, to the Sinjar Mountains. The headscarf can be removed. The landscape is still barren, criss-crossed by small flocks of sheep with their shepherds. Sinjar was that Focal point of the genocide against the Yazidis through the IS group. Thousands have been murdered, thousands kidnapped, and many are still missing. Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee. Some Yazidis are reluctant to return to Sinjar. The experiences were too bad. The approximately 30,000 inhabitants of the city of Sinuni in Sinjar, as well as the residents of the surrounding villages, not only receive urgently needed medical care from Doctors Without Borders, but also psychological support for coping with trauma. Suicide rates and mental illness, especially among young women, are very high. Our team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists often offers life-saving help.
My visit to Iraq is over too soon and I have to go back to "my" reality. But with deep impressions. An aroused curiosity beautiful and diverse country of Iraq opposite to. Much respect for what our teams on site but also our patients create. And gratitude that so many people in Austria support us so that we can do exactly this work.