Moath and Nawras died in a Damascus hospital early Wednesday morning. The conjoined twins were one month old.
Conjoined at the stomach and pericardial sac, which held both their hearts, the infants were born on July 23 in the regime-encircled, Damascus suburb of East Ghouta.
On August 12, Syria’s Foreign Ministry authorized the twins to leave East Ghouta. From there, they were moved to a private hospital in Damascus while waiting for permission to leave the country for separation surgery, a procedure unavailable inside Syria.
Then, the offers to help poured in. Two hospitals in the United States, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Portugal offered not only to separate the twins, but also to cover their travel expenses and expedite their visa process.
The final step was to be authorization from the Syrian Foreign Ministry to leave the country. The days passed, with no word. An individual in Damascus involved in the case reached out to Syria Direct over the weekend for assistance, calling the twins’ health situation “very urgent.”
“As I am sure you gather, the main problem is getting government/security approval for them to travel,” the person wrote. “Politics are involved, as you can imagine, for several reasons.”
It is hard to imagine the politics around allowing conjoined twins to leave the country in order to survive. The circumstances around the delay in letting them leave Syria remain unclear.
Moath and Nawras. Artwork courtesy of Akram Abu al-Fawz.
And so, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, “the inevitable happened,” Mohammed Katoob, a member of the East Ghouta Unified Medical Office, who was directly involved in negotiations to transfer the twins, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.
The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the twins’ deaths.
Q: Walk us through what happened these past few days. How did these twins die?
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent got permission from the Syrian Foreign Ministry to move the twins out of East Ghouta. On August 12, they made it to Damascus where they were admitted to one of the specialty hospitals. A number of international hospitals reached out to us, offering to care for the twins. Not only did these hospitals promise comprehensive treatment, but they also offered to cover all travel costs, visas and other logistics.
But the Foreign Ministry dragged its feet. They waited and they waited until the inevitable happened.
We can’t make sense of what happened. We have no clue what could possibly have driven the Foreign Ministry to keep these conjoined twins from seeking medical care outside of the country. Since they couldn’t leave the country—and no one inside Syria could properly treat them—these twins barely even made it to one month old.
Q: How did the Foreign Ministry explain the delay to you?
We’ve been working and coordinating through UNOCHA; we haven’t directly spoken with the Foreign Ministry. However, we were told that the reason for the delay was that the twins still needed to get their passports despite the fact that we had made clear that there were countries ready to accept the children right away, even without a passport.
Q: Which countries are these?
There were two American hospitals, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Portugal. Each of them contacted their respective embassies in Beirut in order to have visas issued for the twins and their mother.
Q: How can humanitarian organizations effectively operate in Syria when state entities such as the Foreign Ministry can so often block their work?
As NGOs, we don’t have the power to affect these macro power dynamics. That falls on much larger entities such as the United Nations. They’re either powerless to do so or don’t possess the political will to improve the lives of the Syrian people.
Q: How can international organizations work within the confines of the state in Syria? Is there any way to circumvent the government in your line of work?
Moath and Nawras embody the plight of hundreds of thousands of children in Syria. Their tragic story tells the tale of how the world has failed the Syrian people and its children in particular.
The UN has the power to change things. That I am 100 percent sure of, but for whatever reason, it’s clear that they neither have the political will nor the desire to do so.