IDPs reluctant to receive Covid-19 vaccines

Kifri, March 2021: a displaced woman working in an agricultural field in one of the villages of the district. Laila Ahmed

By Laila Ahmed

Part of the IDPs residing in Kurdistan region are not willing to receive the Corona vaccine unless they are obliged to in order to conduct their transactions in the public departments of the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG, which require employees and visitors to receive the vaccine.

In June 2021, the Iraqi Council of Ministers stipulated taking the vaccine or undergoing tests to detect the Corona virus, to allow citizens to review the departments and conduct their transactions.

According to the decision, visitors must carry a vaccination card or a corona examination card valid for two weeks, while attending government departments.

The internally displaced people IDPs admit that there are no obstacles preventing them from receiving the vaccine and that they can obtain it easily, but they prefer not to receive it unless they have to.

Naima Tahsin, 56, was displaced from her home seven years ago and currently lives in a remote village in Sarqala sub-district of Kifri district. She and her children are busy with farming.

“We do not interact with other people, so why should we take the vaccine? We are eight people, none of us received the vaccine," Tahsin said.

Since the Iraqi government's decision, Naima has not needed to visit any government department, and it is not clear whether she will decide to take the vaccine in the future.

30,000 IDPs, inside and outside the IDP camps, live in the districts of Kifri, Kalar and Darbandikhan under Garmian administration, according to Bestun Zhazhlayi, head of the IDPs department in the Garmian administration.

According to joint coordination center of KRG, 54% of the IDPs in Kurdistan region are from Nineveh province, 14% from Salhaddin, 13% from Anbar beside many from Diyala, Baghdad and Kirkuk.

Kifri is one of the districts located within the disputed territories under the Iraqi constitution and part of Diyala province run by the Iraqi government, while administratively is one of the districts of the Garmian administration.

Garmian local administration which includes several districts and sub-districts between Sulaimaniya and Diyala province is part of  Sulaymaniyah Northern Province, one of KRI provinces under the KRG.

I would not have received the vaccine without my need to complete the government department's transaction

Afifa Qassem Muhammad, a widow who lives with her three daughters in the same village as Naima, says that she was not ready to receive the Corona vaccine, but in December 2021 she “had” to take the vaccine because she had to attend a government department.

"I went to a public office in Kifri district to complete an official transaction, but they asked me in the reception for the vaccination card and I told them that I had not received the vaccine, and they said that they did not allow me to enter without the vaccination card."

Kalar, January 2022: Corona vaccination center in a hospital in the district. Media of Garmian Health Department

After that, Afifa had to go to a vaccination outlet in Kifri district and take a dose of the vaccine. "The center was very crowded, a large number of people were waiting in queues to receive the vaccine, I stood in the queue and took the vaccine." All what Hanifa needed was to show an ID card.

"I would not have received the vaccine without my need to complete the government department's transaction," Afifa said.

Some of the displaced, such as Naima and Afifa who lost their husbands, were forced to escpae violence and live in remote villages of the KRI.

According to the decision of the local government in Garmian, the displaced, like other citizens, can receive doses of the Corona vaccine by showing their ID cards at the vaccination centers.

Afifa, the head of the family and the only one who was vaccinated, told KirkukNow, "We don't mix with people, so we don't get corona and we don't need a vaccine."

Despite the availability of vaccination centers where the displaced can get doses of the vaccine, the Garmian administration has formed mobile teams that visit the displaced in remote areas, according to Fariq Abdul Rahman, in charge of distributing vaccines in the Garmian Health Department.

We did not separate the displaced from other citizens in terms of giving the vaccine

"We did not separate the displaced from other citizens in terms of giving the vaccine, they can vaccinate themselves provided they have an official identity card."

According to Garmian Health Department statistics, only 1,600 displaced people received the Corona vaccine during the past year, which prompted the health departments to think about forming mobile teams to enable the displaced people residing in remote villages to obtain the vaccine.

Video by Iraqi ministry of helath urges people to vaccinate

The decision to require taking the vaccine or conducting a corona examination to allow transactions to be carried out came into effect in Garmian districts late last year, according to information KirkukNow obtained and the assurances of district officials, after the decision was issued, the percentage of vaccinated people increased yet KirkukNow could not obtain accurate statistics in this regard.

The terms of the government decision stipulate that people who have medical reports proving that they have diseases that conflict with the vaccine, or who have not been infected with the Corona virus for three months, are exempted from receiving the vaccine.

"I heard that the vaccine is harmful to people with some chronic diseases. Most of my family members suffer from chronic diseases, so we are afraid to take the vaccine," said Abbas Al-Shami, a 59-year-old IDP.

Al-Shami heads three families from Shirqat District in Salah El-Din province, who were displaced to a village in Kifri District several years ago. Only three young men of those three families have received the vaccine so far.

This comes at a time when the Iraqi Ministry of Health, in its recent awareness campaign, urged citizens to take the vaccine and posted on its Facebook page, the hashtag "#vaccinate, your vaccine is your life."

Al-Shami said that last month, he went to a government department in Baghdad for an official transaction and was prevented me from entering the department because he was not vaccinated so he paid someone to finish the paperwork.


The district of Kifri under Garmiyan administration where part of IDPs in KRI live

“We ask the regional government not to make vaccination mandatory, especially for displaced people who live in villages and do not mix with people.”

There are more than 664,000 displaced people in the Kurdistan Region, more than 136,000 of them reside within the borders of the Sulaymaniyah Governorate, according to the statistics of the KRG.

Figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health indicate that the number of vaccinated people in Sulaymaniyah Governorate and Garmian Administration until February 14, 2022 amounted to 381,574 people, and Sulaymaniyah ranked thirteenth among the governorates of Iraq.

KirkukNow visited eight other displaced families in Rizgari sub-district of Kalar district, all of these families stressed that people encourage them to take the vaccine, but they have not yet visited a center for vaccination against Corona.

Zakaria Rebwar, a member of one of those families, said, "There is a vaccination center in the district, we inquired and they told us that we can get vaccine doses like other residents of the area, we all decided to take the vaccine because I see that vaccination does not hurt, otherwise the government would have not advised people to vaccinate."

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