Born Into Exile, With a New Chance at Life

Oct 15, 2014 at 11:22 AM ET

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.