Reality separates people of northern Syria from Coronavirus pandemic

A part of Coronavirus awareness campaigns carried out by the civil bodies and volunteer teams in Qabtan and al-Hardanah camps, north of Aleppo, to emphasize domestic quarantine and prevent coronavirus spread - 24 March 2020 (Enab Baladi)

A part of Coronavirus awareness campaigns carried out by the civil bodies and volunteer teams in Qabtan and al-Hardanah camps, north of Aleppo, to emphasize domestic quarantine and prevent coronavirus spread - 24 March 2020 (Enab Baladi)


Several organizations in the opposition factions-held areas in the province of Idlib and Aleppo in northern Syria have carried out awareness campaigns for both residents and the internally displaced persons (IDPs). The campaigns intend to introduce measures to combat Covid-19, an emerging Coronavirus infection, and prevent its spread in northern Syria. However, their overall results have not been reflected in Syria north as required. 

On 23 March, the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) published that its volunteer teams, within the available capabilities, are sanitizing public facilities in northern Syria to prevent the rapid spread of the Covid-19” outbreak as well as conducting campaigns to raise awareness of Coronavirus and essential protection and infection control measures. Furthermore, the SCD launched a stay-at-home campaign, urging people to limit movements outside of their homes beyond crucial needs.

However, a study conducted by the Syrian Response Coordinators Group (SRCG) in the Syrian north and published on 27 March concludes that: 6,300 people were surveyed; 79 percent of people do not have any information about the new Coronavirus disease, 15 percent of people have limited knowledge about the disease, and just five percent of people have enough knowledge of the virus.

Insufficient campaigns or ignorance?!

Enab Baladi spoke with four people living in different areas in northern Syria: Atme, Binnish, al-Bab, and the IDP camps in these regions. All of them emphasized that the Coronvirus awareness campaigns were insufficient and that both residents and IDPs did not adhere to them and the necessary protective measures against Coronavirus.

Monther Saeed, a young man from the city of Binnish in Idlib countryside, said that he somewhat adhered to the precautionary measures of the “Coronavirus” disease, recommended and defined in the Coronavirus awareness campaigns. Saeed took this matter to the utmost seriousness. According to Saeed, if the virus hit their areas, the magnitude of the health disaster would be higher than what was inflicted by the nine years’ Syrian war. The majority of Binnish residents have not yet complied with the Coronavirus precautions and health guidelines and did not deal with the health issue of the virus very seriously.  They are moving freely without any means of protection in their areas, Saeed said.

Ahmad Gharibi, a seller in a clothes store in the town of Atme in the northern countryside of Idlib, obtained some information about the Coronavirus infection in a campaign launched by the SCD. Gharibi indicated that people did not show commitment at a large scale to the Coronavirus awareness campaigns and their recommendations. He realized that in his workplace (in the market), people are gathering and doing their work and shopping routinely, noting most of them have no idea about the virus.

Adel Jalawi, a displaced person in Azraq camp of the al-Bab city in rural Aleppo, did not deny the knowledge that the Coronavirus awareness campaigns provided to him through distributing leaflets on methods of prevention and public safety about the Coronavirus pandemic, and not to mention that people response to the campaign positively.

Jalawi expressed his gratefulness to the Coronavirus awareness campaigns because people would be ignorant of the virus without it, underscoring the IDPs’ high awareness of the infection prevention and control measures about the novel Covid-19.

Nevertheless, Jalawi clarified that the precautionary measures against Coronavirus are impossible to be applied on the ground amid the camp’s worsening conditions, emphasizing the organizations operating in northern Syria provided the residents of  Azraq IDP camp with no preventive equipment(medical masks, gloves, sanitizers).

Yasser al-Darwish, director of Azraq camp, confirmed what Jalawi said, that there is no possibility to adhere to the preventive methods recommended by the organizations, referring to the same reason, which is the camp environment. Al-Darwish believes it is challenging for a camp population—all live in dangerously overcrowded and fragile environments with several family members— to follow Covid-19 quarantine and self-isolation. Al-Darwish is very concerned that if the Coronavirus infected one displaced person, this would put the rest at a higher risk of infection.

Al-Darwish emphasized that the campaigns that took place were not sufficient on the one hand, and the displaced people did not commit to any of them, on the other hand.

Lack of response of IDPs to Coronavirus awareness campaign

Omar al-Nimr, a counseling psychologist, believes that a society with this great legacy of tragedies, sorrows, and ignorance needs a double effort to persuade it to abide by the precautionary measures and recommendations to protect their health and curb the virus. Syrian society needs the appropriate protective equipment for that, which are very few.

Al-Nimar thinks that advice and guidance are no longer enough or convincing to the Syrian population, and modern methods must be used to address the Syrians in order to tackle with the imminent threat of the virus seriously.

“The Syrian citizen has become a unique model in dealing with everything; for what he/she experienced and lived during his/her last years, and before that he/she was brought up by the habits created by the social, political and religious conditions,” al-Nimr told Enab Baladi.

Al-Nimr pointed out that the Syrians, especially in the north, not responding effectively to awareness campaigns and their guidance for internal and external causes.

First of all, the Syrian population is ignorant of the real danger posed by an invisible enemy. The majority of them misunderstand the meaning of “entrusting their soul to Allah,” without taking into account the strategic reasons.

As for the external reasons, they are related to the crisis of confidence, which has been aggravated among Syrians; they have been accustomed to receiving lies and false news, which made them not take the Coronavirus pandemic seriously despite its spread in Syria. Furthermore, the Syrians experienced the dangers and death of all kinds, which made them underestimate Covid-19; they even have the guts to die because of it.

The director of Azraq camp confirmed what the psychologist said, highlighting that “we have sustained a barbaric bombardment and we were forced to flee our homes in the freezing winter. We have suffered far too much so that we (the displaced and residents of Idlib) here are indifferent to the Coronavirus health crisis.”

Syrians risking their lives to meet their families’ basic needs as Coronavirus stikes Syria

The counseling psychologist, al-Nimar justified people’s failure to adhere to prevention and isolation precautions, saying that there is a single justified reason; the lack of the basic necessities of life that come at the top of human priorities, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

Al-Nimr believes that the Syrians are ready to put their lives at risk in order to sustain their families, and here comes the role of international organizations and institutions in securing the basic needs for the families to remain in their homes safe.

Gharibi, the seller, affirmed the fact mentioned above that he has to go to work every day and earn a living, referring to the low per capita income and high prices.

International warning: Syria will become the most massive hot spot of coronavirus infections

The head of the Idlib health directorate on 24 March, Munzer al-Khalil addressed a letter to non-governmental organizations, donors and expatriates, in which he talked about the lack of commitment of the people in Idlib to Coronavirus awareness campaigns and social distancing because they need to meet their families’ necessities including water and food. Al-Khalil called upon them to increase their allocations of food and hygiene kits to this region.

International Rescue Committee (IRC) has warned that Covid-19 in Syria could become one of the most severe outbreaks in the world because Syrians have been experiencing war for more than nine years, which left the country’s health system collapsed.

The IRC particularly talked about the aggravating situation in the province of Idlib; nearly a million people have been forced to flee their homes since December 2019 due to the military offensives carried out by the Syrian regime and its supporters Russia.

In addition, many displaced people are living in inadequate, crammed camps and settlements where the sanitation system is weak, social distancing is almost impossible, and access to essential services is minimal, according to the IRC.

Regional Policy and Advocacy Director for the IRC in the Middle East, Misty Buswell indicated that the conditions in Idlib are ripe for the spread of disease, amid lack of food, clean water, and exposure to cold weather. All these factors together left hundreds of thousands of people in poor health, making them more vulnerable to a disease that can spread as rapidly as COVID-19.

Buswell also mentioned that there is a shortage of medicines in the region, adding that “procurement of equipment and medicine to respond to an outbreak of a disease that can spread as quickly as COVID-19 has already been difficult.”

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