It seems to be just another house in the city of Ozar on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Erbil, but a small sign shows it is different from the rest: the Saint Elizabeth Clinic is where Zuzana Dudova has set up operations along with her small contingent of Slovakian Catholic volunteers who are serving Christian refugees displaced from their homes by the Islamic State.
Dudova, a young doctor who graduated from Saint Elizabeth University in her native Slovakia, came to Erbil with Przemyslaw Ulman and Sonia Revicka to set up a clinic where they could take care of the flood of Christian refugees that settled in this recently constructed suburb.
Saint Elizabeth University is specializes in careers related to medicine, social services, and missionary work. Its founder, Dr. Vladimir Kramer, was an important active member of the underground Church during the communist regime. After the fall of the regime, he founded the university with the intention of promoting charitable services throughout the world.
“Organizations like Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus have made it possible for hundreds of families to move into new homes, but the number of refugees is so great and the cost of rent is such that three or four families have to share the same dwelling,” Dudova explained to CNA.
Unlike other places in Africa or Southeast Asia where Saint Elizabeth University has established other medical and social services missions, in Erbil “the cost of living is high and this makes aid work for the displaced Christians, as well as medical services, more difficult to sustain,” the doctor explained.
Nevertheless, the small Slovakian university “has never said no to an aid project, and we weren’t going to say no to the displaced Christians on the outskirts of Erbil.”
The clinic, which includes a reception desk, a waiting room with pharmacy and two rooms for medical care, serves more than 20 people a day. “We try to do the best we can with our limited resources and we send the cases that require special medical care to the hospitals in Erbil,” Dudova explained.
Even though Ozar is located only a few miles from downtown Erbil, where large hospitals provide services, “the lack of public transportation is one of the reasons that local medical care is so necessary,” Dudova said. In fact, during CNA's visit, dozens of people came in needing emergency medical care such as the treatment of wounds or infections, or a follow-up treatment.
Dudova and her colleagues expressed their frustration in the case of a refugee girl who runs the risk of being paralyzed.
“She would have to get regular care in Erbil, and her parents know it, but they can’t always pay round-trip taxi fare,” Revicka explained. Erbil, in spite of its size, does not have a public transportation system, and very few refugee families were able to escape from Mosul or its environs with a vehicle.
“We provide the medicine, we make sure they get care at the hospital, we do everything possible, but the refugees have to deal with all kinds of problems, from the language barrier to bureaucracy,” Dudova explained. Every day she has to negotiate with the taxi drivers for the round trip to her residence in Ankawa, Erbil's Christian district.
“If you’re travelling by day,” she explained with a smile, “you set your price and you pass up taxi after taxi till you get it, but at night it’s harder to negotiate.”
Despite the frustrations, Dudova and her “Slovak battalion” intend to continue working with the displaced Christians.
"I’ll be going back to Slovakia at the beginning of the summer, but I’ll come back in August to keep serving at the clinic. We know the international situation does not leave the Christian refugees many options. The men try to find work so they can move into a single family home, but there are few opportunities, and the lack of security makes going back impossible in the short term … so we have to continue going on here, and we hope that the world’s Christians will not forget their brothers and sisters in Iraq."