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Syrian Kurds designate graves for those who die abroad

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in Syria is burying any residents who die abroad in designated graves near border crossings.

AL-MALIKIYAH, Syria — The Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC) recently received the body of a woman to bury at a designated site in Gerbalat, Syria, that has been established for those who die abroad, regardless of the cause of death.

The woman, 65, had lived near Qamishli in northeast Hasakah, but died in Germany. Hussein Hussein, her brother, told Al-Monitor by phone, “My sister didn't die because of the coronavirus, but because she had high blood pressure and suffered from diabetes. We will move [her] body to the family’s cemetery in Girbawi once the lockdown is over."

Officials of the autonomous administration of northeast Syria, an area known as Rojava, on March 30 ordered that the bodies of Kurdish citizens who die abroad be buried in special graves near border crossings, in line with precautionary measures to prevent the outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Ahmad Baz, media office director at the Semalka border crossing, told Al-Monitor, “The woman was the first to be buried at the designated site, and there are other corpses expected to arrive in the coming period. When COVID-19 disappears, the autonomous administration will allow the families of those buried in Gerbalat to move the corpses to their own cemeteries in their cities, towns and villages.”

Commenting on the decision, Kamal Derbas, a KRC administrative officer, told Al-Monitor, “It is a preventive measure to confront the spread of COVID-19. This is because funerals are usually attended by crowds, where the virus could spread quickly — even if only one person is infected.”

He added, “The KRC and Kurdish internal security forces [Asayish] are in charge of receiving the bodies of those who died abroad. The KRC workers are in charge of disinfecting and burying them, whether they died in a car accident or of any disease, including COVID-19.”

Lawand Qassem, co-chair of the Kray Shira municipality in rural al-Malikiyah/Derek, told Al-Monitor, “The autonomous administration, in coordination with the Derek municipality, allocated a 1-dunum [quarter-acre] plot near Gerbalat in the countryside of Derek for this purpose.”

There is also a two-week quarantine in effect for anyone entering Rojava from abroad. "Abroad" means anywhere outside Rojava, including other parts of Syria.

Juan Mustafa, co-chairman of the autonomous administration's Health Department, noted the outbreak in Damascus and other Syrian regime-controlled areas is concerning. The Health Department’s teams on April 5 quarantined 20 airline passengers coming from Damascus to Qamishli. On April 11, the department stated that 60 people are currently in quarantine for the two-week incubation period, and their health status is being followed up until they are confirmed virus-free. All of them came from Damascus.

“So far, not a single case has been recorded in our areas," he added. "We opened medical posts at all of the administration’s border crossings, where all passengers are tested before they enter Syria’s northeastern areas. All suspected cases are being isolated in places equipped in advance for this purpose.”

The autonomous administration made a series of decisions to prevent the virus from spreading in its area. It banned the movement of citizens between cities and towns; closed restaurants, cafes, schools, private medical clinics, markets, public parks, ceremony halls and funeral gatherings; and extended a lockdown for another 15 days, ending April 21. The decision excludes food shops, pharmacies, animal and agricultural drug stores, and agricultural machinery repair shops. The administration also exempted citizens from paying water, electricity and cleaning services bills, and suspended military conscription during the lockdown.

The Health Department said March 20 it had supplied nine quarantine centers in several cities with specialized health-care personnel, equipment and beds, and emergency medical teams in all areas are equipped with ambulances. The department also launched an emergency hotline for suspected COVID-19 cases.

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