Ilham Ehmed: The WHO must act immediately for NE Syria

Kurdish politician Ilham Ehmed of the MSD calls for support from the WHO for the prevention of the Covid-19 pandemic in northeast Syria.

Despite the worldwide spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not supported the autonomous region of North and East Syria in any way in protecting itself from the disease. Ilham Ehmed, Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD), has spoken to ANHA news agency about the lack of international aid for North-East Syria and the measures in the region.

WHO has provided assistance to the Syrian Government and the so-called opposition in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Why do you think that the autonomous administration is not receiving aid?

Unfortunately, the Autonomous Region is constantly excluded from humanitarian aid. There is the WHO and the institutions of the autonomous administration are in contact with it. But the aid that is given is very rudimentary. As you know, such organisations are more willing to work with the Syrian central government. They are guided by the decisions of the governments. In our opinion, this mechanism is inadequate and not in order.

Why not?

Because the Syrian Government has not yet established positive and democratic relations with the real opposition. It is still pursuing a strictly centralist position. It is therefore neither rational nor acceptable that WHO establishes contacts and provides assistance only through the central government.

As far as we know, the WHO has decided to provide the autonomous administration with some equipment to detect coronavirus. But so far they have not been handed over to us. The Syrian Government and some other groups in the region have received such equipment. Of course this can be considered a political decision. But it would be more correct not to use a humanitarian emergency as a political lever. That is, of course, a point of criticism. The United Nations and the WHO should therefore reconsider their decisions.

Is there any support from the anti-ISIS coalition against pandemic?

We are in constant contact with the international coalition and ask them for support in the fight against the coronavirus. So far, no medical aid has arrived from the coalition or elsewhere. At least test kits should have been sent. If the disease spreads in the region, this could lead to a major disaster. In order to avoid such a situation, we call on the international coalition forces to provide the region with the necessary medical assistance.

After all, Russian troops are also stationed here. Is there any support from this side?

Russia, too, has not provided any support so far. When aid is sent to the region, it is sent through the WHO. However, the Russian side is actually responsible for the areas where its forces are located. As everyone knows, the armed forces are one of the most affected groups. The Russian military have links with Syrian government troops and Iranian forces, which could mean that the virus could enter the region via Russian and Syrian government troops. The Syrian Government should therefore take account of the current situation and protect the region from the threat of the pandemic by doing what is required of it.

Is there coordination with the Syrian Government against the virus?

There is coordination between the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Government's Ministry of Health, but in practice this has no consequences. The government in Damascus does not pass on to us any data on suspected cases, even those that we ourselves have sent to them. It has not stopped air traffic either. Despite the travel ban, many passengers from Damascus have arrived in northern and eastern Syria. So far, the Syrian Government has not assumed any responsibility whatsoever; indeed, one could even say that its attitude could lead to the pandemic spreading here in the region.

What do you think the Syrian Government is trying to achieve?

Unfortunately, many parties are trying to use the outbreak of the pandemic as a means of putting pressure on others. That is not a good way to go and it is far from any moral standards. The Syrian government should act responsibly. Everyone who lives here is part of this country. They are working to rid Syria of chaos and make it a safe place. If this practice is not stopped, the government in Damascus will be responsible for the spread of coronavirus in the region.

What are the consequences of this failed coordination?

In terms of the health situation, this affects not only northern and eastern Syria, but the whole of Syria. There is no exchange or discussion in the current situation. Everyone here is now focusing on health care and it will continue to be important to attach the greatest importance to it.

Recently, there have been repeated reports of infected jihadists being sent to the Turkish-occupied regions of Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî. Is this true?

A lot of information comes from the occupied territories. We are trying to verify it. The situation in Turkey is also critical because of the coronavirus. About 100 people die every day in Turkey. If the information you refer to is correct, it would be a war crime. We call on the public and the relevant institutions to address this issue. Otherwise, this practice could have very dangerous consequences for Turkey.

Would you like to make an appeal to the people of North and East Syria?

The Health Commission must clarify the condition of people arriving from Damascus. Regarding the case of the soldier who returned infected from military service to Shehba, it is incredibly dangerous that the family tried to hide the infection. This is due to a lack of awareness of the dimension of the danger. The people should not consider quarantine as a punishment. On the contrary, it is absolutely necessary. Everyone should be aware that these measures are taken to protect their families and society.

The curfew imposed by the Autonomous Administration is necessary and important. Based on current data, it can be said that it has so far prevented the virus from spreading. The curfew must continue, even though we know that it is difficult for the population.