Born Into Exile, With a New Chance at Life
DOHUK, IRAQ—Inside the delivery room of a makeshift clinic, a young woman in labor is moaning with pain as her relatives watch, their faces contorted with concern. The air smells like disinfectant, and Abla Ali, 29, a Syrian midwife, scurries in and out, fetching needles and an IV drip.
Outside, a long line of women wait patiently for their turn. Many are pregnant, and their eyes show their exhaustion.
Here in the Kurdish part of Iraq, some 200,000 Syrian refugees have crossed the border over the past three years because of Syria’s civil war. More recently, with the rise of the Islamic State, a jihadi group commonly known as ISIS, another 850,000 people have been displaced throughout the Kurdish parts of Iraq.
The newcomers have overwhelmed local hospitals. So several months ago, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) opened this maternity clinic at Domiz Camp, a dusty desert tent city that’s home to 56,000 Syrian refugees, in hopes of easing the burden.
Complex births, such as cesarean sections, are still referred to the hospital in Dohuk, a town roughly 6 miles away. But many refugees say the cost of getting to the hospital and language barriers—the majority of the Syrians speak a different dialect of Kurdish than their Iraqi counterparts—are strong deterrents. “Some women told me they would prefer to die in their tents rather than go to the [local] hospital,” Ali says.
Now many women will come to this clinic to give birth, and Ali and her fellow midwives will be here to help them. Like many of her patients, Ali is a refugee. She escaped the fighting in Damascus and came to Iraq to start a new life.
It hasn’t been easy. At first, she was making house calls and helping women give birth in crowded tents. Her hardest delivery occurred 18 months ago, when her sister Vian went into labor in Dohuk. Despite Ali’s best efforts, the child died.
On this day, however, there is no cause for mourning. Back in the delivery room, the woman has stopped moaning. Her child is born, her family is all smiles and Ali moves on to the next woman waiting in line outside.