Those who help are helpless

By Jose Luis Paniagua

Cairo, May 7 (efe-epa).- When countries in the Middle East started to suspend flights and close land and maritime borders back in February as the coronavirus spread through Iran and began to show up in Iraq, travellers, businesspeople and tourists were not the only ones who became trapped on the ground.

Humanitarian workers and international food and aid distribution networks working in schools in northeast Syria, hospitals in Yemen or refugee camps in Jordan also found themselves stuck.

Two months later, international NGO workers are exhausted, drained by a combination of a lack of staff rotation, overtime and persistent concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

Celia Roman, a medical representative from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), tells Efe that many of those lined up to replace workers in certain areas have been unable to travel due to the closure of borders and airspace.

“Two or three weeks ago, we had five people in Djibouti destined for Yemen. They had to return home because in a matter of days, while they were waiting for their visas, the airports were closed down.”

As a result of this, teams on the ground have to continue their work with whatever personnel they have available.

The issue of lockdowns do not only have an impact on personnel but also on supplies.

“It is exactly the same: there are medical orders that have been delayed because the airports are closed, so that not only jeopardizes the Covid-19 response but also the necessary basic response to the regular projects that we had,” she adds.

The spokesperson for Save the Children in the Middle East, Joelle Bassoul, tells Efe that the closure of the borders has “slowed down” their response capacity.

“Our international staff who were outside Yemen at the time can’t go back in now or our colleagues working in northeast Syria have seen the border with Iraq closed,” she says.

The situation has put a stop to the usual programs and forced them to be adjusted in accordance with the changing nature of the epidemic with the help of local associations.

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