First Hand Experience: An Interview with A Refugee

Mohsen Madawi is a student at Lehigh University who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp. Mohsen was a third-generation refugee in the al-Far’a camp in the West Bank. He is the oldest of eight, and after his mother left the camp when he was 7 years old, he was in charge. Each refugee in the camp received a refugee number, and Mohsen’s number is 14,006. He explained that there are two different types of refugee camps, the long term camps and short term emergency camps. In his situation, he lived in a long term camp which had more access to medical care than short term camps have. Still, there was not much. In Mohsen’s camp, there was only one doctor that cared for over 10,000 people. Medication was very simple and consisted of a few antibiotics, Tylenol, and bandaids. The medical clinic also closed at 2pm and after that there was no way to receive any medical attention. There were many infections in the camps as people moved from towns and brought in diseases. Children would also often play barefoot in dirty water. Many people would get injuries, and stitches were done very poorly. There was no access to x-ray machines so if someone had a broken limb it wouldn’t be treated. Many people died in camps at young ages of diseases they didn’t know they had. There was no way to know if someone had cancer so many diseases were left undiagnosed and ultimately killed the person. If a refugee had a very serious issue requiring a hospital, they would first need approval. The approval paper would be sent to Jerusalem and then sent back to the refugee camp. Many patients died before getting their approval for treatment. For pregnant women, they weren’t able to go to a hospital to give birth, and would have to give birth in the refugee camp in a very unsterile environment. Many women died from childbirth. One of Mohsen’s friends in the camp’s mother unfortunately died while giving birth to him. Mohsen recounted a time when he cut his tongue in the refugee camp, and a nurse in the camp put antibiotics on his tongue and filled his mouth with coffee to disinfect it. He was unable to speak for a few days after. Once every three months, a doctor from Doctors Without Borders would visit the camp. It wasn’t much help, and their main focus was on the elderly people in the camp. In 2014, Mohsen came to the United States to continue his education. Mohsen is in the IDEAS program at Lehigh, majoring in computer engineering and planning to pursue a degree in international law.

Sarah Alvi

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