NEWS

A helping hand from the Doctors of the World

A Greek medical team from Doctors of the World has returned from a 10-day mission delivering aid and medical care to camps on the Afghan-Iran border. Traveling overland through Turkey by freight truck, the team took five tons of food, four tons of medicine and 2,500 blankets to camps for internally displaced people. A second group leaves today carrying more privately donated aid from Greece. Since the recent US bombardment began in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of internally displaced Afghans have gathered in Iranian-sponsored refugee camps in areas under Taleban control not far from the Iranian border. The camps are guarded by the Taleban, who have cooperated with the demand by Doctors of the World that armed troops would keep their distance from the camps. A single guard patrols the water and food supplies. We want guarantees that the aid we bring goes directly to children and civilians, and not to armed forces on any side, says Dr. Theophilos Rosenberg, president of Doctors of the World-Greece. That means we want to be there in person to make sure, he told Kathimerini English Edition. The camps are located in remote, drought-stricken areas, and conditions in the camps are spartan, though most families have tents for shelter and heating oil, the only readily available commodity. The Greek doctors examined hundreds of patients, most of whom were suffering from gastric, respiratory and dermatological ailments and untreated infections; many of the children showed signs of chronic malnutrition. Those camp residents who can afford it bribe their way across the border, leaving the poorest families in the camps. Camps on Afghan territory More than 2 million Afghans have already sought refuge in Iran from oppression, armed conflict, protracted drought and the continued economic downturn. Iran has closed its border with Afghanistan but is establishing nine camps on Afghan territory, and three of them are already in operation. All are run by the Iranian Red Crescent. The Greek doctors gained permission to provide medical care at Makaki camp, about two kilometers from the Iranian border in southeastern Afghanistan. There are about 1,000 tents in Makaki, one for each family, but some recently arrived families lack even a tent and are using rugs to construct rudimentary shelter. Doctors of the World are urging the Iranian government to shift the camps onto Iranian territory at a safe distance from the hostilities, where the residents will be entitled as refugees to benefits that they do not receive while they are classified members of an internally displaced population. Currently the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Teheran has no access to the camps. All the aid delivered on these first two missions comes from private sources. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou has promised support, but so far only NGOs have offered practical assistance. Doctors of the World, one of the first Western groups to bring humanitarian assistance, has worked together with UNICEF and the Alexandroupolis-based organization Hellenic Aid. Rosenberg emphasized the symbolic value of the humanitarian route that Doctors of the World followed through Turkey, although in the interests of easier access, future shipments will utilize the modern facilities of the airport at Zahedan in southeastern Iran. Whoever is not with us is with the terrorists, according to the American president.