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Every morning on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, dozens of empty ambulances line up. They await their patients, Syrians injured in their country’s brutal civil war. This queue of ambulances is mirrored on the other side, where more vehicles snake along the road. They contain children injured in the Syrian civil war. Soon, the transfer of patients begins.
Turkey has committed to providing free pediatric care to Syrian refugees—no small task, given that one-third of the Syrian population has been displaced, both internally and externally. But what about those who need help but cannot leave the country?
Caring for those affected by the brutal conflict is not for the faint of heart. At a Carr Center panel discussion on Wednesday (Oct. 2), two people who spent time on the ground in northern Syria discussed the challenge—and imperative—of aiding the civilian Syrian population.
Pablo Marco MC/MPA 2013, who spent a month and a half in the embattled town of Aleppo last summer leading a project for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders), lay bare the difficulties of working in a war zone.
“Every single hour, bombs fall,” he said. And what’s even worse, he said, is that the regime of Bashar al-Assad targets medical facilities, making it all the more difficult to help those in need. Marco encountered many challenges, including government forces blocking assistance to those in areas held by the opposition.
“MSF thinks health systems should be independent of politics,” said Marco. “We have never seen attacks on this scale targeting doctors.”
Omar Salem, a native of Damascus who now practices orthodontics south of Boston, works with several relief programs, including Zeitouna (“olive tree” in Arabic), which is run by the Karam Foundation. It provides activities for Syrian children, only 10 percent of whom are in school. Both he and Marco emphasized the need for better coordination among aid groups. Salem also spent time in Syria, where he witnessed infants—some just hours old—being transferred from Syrian to Turkish ambulances at the border.
Both men agreed that the Syrian tragedy is one of epic proportions. In addition to those wounded by the war, malnutrition—an ailment not seen in Syria before the conflict—is rampant and people needing urgent medical care, such as women with high-risk pregnancies, are suffering. Salem and Marco are doing what they can to help, but neither one is particularly optimistic that an end to this overwhelming catastrophe is in sight.