Sport gives way to security at Baghdad’s Palestinian clinic

Published: 22 May 2003 0:00 CET

Saleh Dabbakeh in Baghdad

The Haifa Club was known in Baghdad as a place where children and adults could go to play football and practice other sports. Near its entrance, a Palestine Red Crescent Society health centre provides a wide range of health services to about 2,000 people every day.

"Almost 90 per cent of our patients are poor Iraqis who cannot afford to go anywhere else", says Dr. Anwar Al-Awawdeh, the hospital director.

The war in Iraq did not stop the busy centre from continuing its activities. But the club can no longer provide sports services to its members: surrounded by a high wall, the club provides a measure of security. For that reason, it is now sheltering up to 150 Palestinian families who have been turned into refugees again.

Forced out of their homes in several parts of Baghdad and other Iraqi towns, nearly 700 Palestinians have flooded into the club, where 164 tents have been erected to accommodate them.

This has happened exactly 55 years since many of them first became refugees, in 1948. "Once more we go back to living in tents," says father of 10 Adnan Abdullah, as he gets a stove ready to start dinner in the space in front of his tent. "I thought I would never live in a tent again."

These Palestinians are the fortunate ones – they have at least found a temporary refuge. Low-income Iraqis, as well as guest workers and refugees from countries like Syria, Sudan or Iran are not so lucky.

"Landlords are forcing anyone who cannot pay rent to leave," says Dr. Al-Awawdeh. "Iraqis and Syrians too, not only Palestinians."

The former government used to regularly pay the rent for many Palestinians and other Arab nationals. But since rent was very low, owners are now asking for more rent.

Non-Iraqis have been streaming to the borders with Syria and Jordan as a result. Some have been accommodated in a desert camp in the no-man's land between Jordan and Iraq; others have been stranded in Iraqi towns near the Syrian border with Iraq since the war started in the second half of March.

In post-war Iraq, chaos rules. The poor become poorer as the price of basic commodities sky-rockets. The vulnerable are becoming more vulnerable.

This situation, in addition to the looting of many health facilities in the Iraqi capital, has increased demand on the PRCS health facility tremendously.

Established in 1991, the centre has "150 staff, including 50 doctors," says Al-Awawdeh. It has a number of specialized clinics providing all kinds of medical services including minor surgery. Essential medical services such as laboratory tests, X-rays, and ultrasound are also available. In addition to medicines they are given for a nominal price.

Al-Awawdeh says that assistance is needed to cope with the situation. According to Ibrahim Osman, the special representative of the secretary general of the Federation's in Iraq, both the Saudi and UAE Red Crescent Societies have agreed to provide immediate assistance to the PRCS clinic and the Haifa Club.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society provided tents and other need to accommodate Palestinians at the Haifa Club.

Related links:

Iraq humanitarian crisis
Palestine Red Crescent Society
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