Australian engineer Graham Baker recently returned from a six month assignment as a logistician with Médecins Sans Frontières. He was in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, supporting Iraqi displaced people and Syrian refugees at two locations. As the attack on Mosul continues, Graham tells us his story of six months with the people of this region.
“In Dohuk I was supporting the maintenance of the maternity clinic of the refugee camp and looking after the Médecins Sans Frontières facilities office, guest houses and central warehouse. In the warehouse we had the Field Surgical Unit (FSU) which has now been deployed near Mosul as an emergency preparedness unit for the victims of the on-going battle in the city.” The FSU is a small but complete emergency hospital set up as a combination of tents. It includes a triage area, emergency room, operating theatre and post-operating room. It also has sterilisation facilities, a laboratory, a power generator and a water supply.
"The second part of my assignment was the rehabilitation of the Tal Maraq maternity clinic. And the first baby was born on the day when I left the country!"
“In the Ninewa province, I was based in Zummar. Our programs included a mobile clinic that was going to three villages. Sometimes we had to change the villages we visited depending on the security context. The second part of my assignment was the rehabilitation of the Tal Maraq maternity clinic. And the first baby was born on the day when I left the country! I was happy that the work has been completed and our medical team can take over to deliver health care.” Security was a major issue in Ninewa as the region has been controlled by Islamic State and taken over recently by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed forces. It is still a highly militarised area. “Most of our cargo was coming from Europe by truck through Turkey. We only used the airport for medical supplies that are temperature sensitive. Going from one point to another can take some time as there are security check-points to control movements. Fortunately, the roads were reasonably well constructed, but sometimes we had grooves right across the road and we had to stop altogether, go through this bump and start off again.”
“I’m an engineer but I hardly used my technical skills. I was managing drivers and local trade people – ‘tradies’ we would say in Australia – who were doing refurbishment work. There was financial and expenditure control to make sure we respected our budget. I relied strongly on my assistants. They had good English, good trade skills and good contact with the communities. That was precious. I enjoyed being in a different environment, meeting with people who have been forced from their home, who are displaced or refugees, to see how they live and how they perceive their future.”
Many Syrian refugees in Domiz camp are looking to go to Europe to seek asylum, but not all. “I met some people who would rather stay in Domiz than go to Australia or Europe, until they can return to Syria safely. In Ninewa, my assistant had his house ransacked and destroyed by ISIS. He lost all his possessions, but now he is in the process of rebuilding it. His family has lived there for generations and chose not to leave. Although he worked in the USA, he decided to come back to his community. For me that was a picture of the great resilience of this people.” All in all, my mission was an amazing experience and I’d be happy to go back in the field with Médecins Sans Frontières, in Iraq or another country.”