Diwaniyah gypsies receive Coronavirus vaccine effortlessly

Al-Diwaniyah, March 2022: A mother and her kid in the village of al-Zihour, home to the gypsies. Tahseen Al-Zarkani

By Tahseen Al-Zarkani in Al-Diwaniyah

Umm (mother of) Salah and the residents of the village of Al-Zohour which is inhabited by gypsies in Al-Diwaniyah province, were afraid that they would not be treated when the first infection with the Coronavirus was announced.

Fears dissipated by the tours of the first health teams to the village to take swabs from them and provide treatment for those who decided to receive treatment at home, so that every gypsy could obtain the Corona vaccine without obstacles.

The village of Al-Zohour is located 7 km southeast of Al-Diwaniyah district. It is inhabited by a majority of Shiite Muslim Arabs, a small number of Sunnis and some Sabean Mandaeans, in addition to the Gypsies.

The Gypsies in Iraq are an ethnic minority. Their main source of livelihood is breeding animals and its products, especially milk. There are no accurate statistics are available for the number of Gypsies in Iraq because of the way and nature of their life, which is characterized by constant movement from one region to another in search of pastures for their livestock.

Two government statistics are currently available, one of it is dated back to 2000 and estimated their numbers at more than 200,000 people, while the number decreased according to other statistics issued in 2005 to 50,000.

Umm Salah, 42, thinks "ignorance and indifference to news for being preoccupied with securing food contributed to our lack of knowledge of the pandemic and its damages, until two people from one family were infected in the first months of 2020".

After we obtained the national card, we were able to register to take the vaccine

Since then, the Gypsies have begun to investigate the epidemic and its damages and how to protect themselves from it, after medical teams visited villages and remote areas, including the village of Al-Zohour.

Some historical sources indicate that the Gypsies have moved to the northwest since the second millennium BC, entered Persia and then descended into the Iraqi plain in the first millennium BC.

In 2020, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior issued instructions to the directorates of nationality of all province to remove the word “gypsy” from the civil status identity and the word “exception” from the nationality certificate, a step for equality among citizens.

This action made it easier for Gypsies to obtain a national card, and thus the possibility of obtaining doses of the Corona vaccine, as the national card is one of the official and main documents that should be issued to every Iraqi citizen and has become an alternative to previous documents such as the Iraqi citizenship certificate and civil status card.

Diwaniyah, March 2022: a woman from the village of flowers. Tahseen Al-Zarkani

Amjad Hussein, a father of three daughters who lives in the same village, says that getting the vaccine required an official document. "After we obtained the national card, we were able to register to receive the vaccine doses. My wife and two of my daughters received both doses."

Umm Salah confirms, "The majority of my family and relatives received the dose of the vaccine without any obstacles, and we encourage others to take the vaccine."

From the moment the pandemic was declared, medical teams have been keen to visit the village of al-Zuhour.

The General Directorate of Al-Diwaniyah Health has opened a small health center in the village of Al-Zuhour so that the residents of the village, including the Gypsies, can receive the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Director of the Commission for Human Rights in Al-Diwaniyah, Muhammad Al-Budairi, explains that "there is a health center in this village that provides very few services to them, in addition to the fact that many are exposed to diseases, especially infectious and skin diseases, because of their residence in areas unfit for habitation."

Inaam Abd, a doctor within the teams of the Diwaniyah Health Directorate, called for the need to pay more attention to this segment, as they are vulnerable to diseases, especially skin diseases.

In general, it is difficult for Gypsies to obtain health services due to their constant movement and the distance of their areas of residence from city centers and districts, so they are exposed, along with the risks of Corona, to many diseases that affect the skin.

Gypsies are spread in small groups all over Iraq, especially in Diwaniyah, and they live in villages or at the outskirts of cities or districts and sub-districts, but there is currently no statistics available about Gypsies in Diwaniyah.

Al-Diwaniyah, March 2022: a gypsy family from the village of Al-Zuhour. Tahseen Al-Zarkani

There is also no statistic about vaccinated Gypsies as the official records of the Public Health Department of the Diwaniyah Health Directorate did not distinguish the Gypsies from the rest of the citizens, due to their possession of the national card which shows no words such as Gypsy or (Kawli) alike previous official documents.

The Director of the Public Health Department, Dr. Makki Briber Al-Saidi, said, "From the moment the pandemic was announced, medical teams were keen to visit the village of Al-Zuhour, and when the Health Department obtained vaccinations, more than 80 citizens were vaccinated in that village."

The Public Health Department and all medical and nursing cadres deal equally with citizens regardless of their color, race or affiliation

"The Public Health Department and all medical and nursing cadres deal equally with citizens regardless of their color, race or affiliation. The National Card canceled that information that was causing social disparities and stigmas among citizens," said the Director of the Public Health Department.

For his part, the mayor of the village of Al-Zohour, Abu Seif says that “all the residents of the village depend on daily work to secure sources of income, and when the curfew is imposed, we are deprived of our work or providing money to manage our daily lives, but some organizations and community activists have continued to provide Food baskets helped to overcome the crisis."

Several international and local organizations, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an implementing partner of the United Nations High Council for Refugees UNHCR, have dedicated several programs to guarantee the rights of citizens to own a national card.

According to government decisions, it is required to possess an official document such as a civil status card, an Iraqi nationality certificate or a national card in order to receive the vaccine.

Regardless of the Gypsies lifestyle, there is currently a health center in the village where which Umm Salah lives, and everyone there is able to receive the vaccine without any obstacles.

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