Syrians turn to Lebanon for medical aid | Globalization | DW | 13.04.2012
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Syrians turn to Lebanon for medical aid

The Syrian up-rising has cost many lives. But what of those who have been injured by the conflict?

Smoke resulting from fighting over the city of Homs, Syria

Many injured protesters from Syrian cities like Homs try to get to Lebanon for treatment

Many Syrians injured in the bloody uprising have been unable to get treatment in Syrian hospitals, for fear of arrest or worse.

Some of these have been forced to seek medical care neighboring Lebanon. They often end up in improvised clinics, where they are treated, for example, by Syrians in exile.

Resouces are short, though dedicated doctors like Mohammed Mazen are trying hard to help the refugee patients.

Before the Syrian uprising, Mazen was a dentist working in the costal city of Banias in northwestern Syria.

But now, having fled Syria himself eight months ago, the 26-year-old is playing the role of doctor in Northern Lebanon, treating injured protestors who have fled across the border. Not everyone makes it in time.

Syrian refugees clear barbed wire to enter Turkey, March 2012

Syrian refugees, shown here at the Turkish border, arrive by motorcyle or even by foot

Ever more injured fleeing Syria

Every day, Mazen takes a taxi or minibus to visit what he calls improvised field hospitals for protestors who have been injured in clashes with Syrian security forces.

The facilities he visits are scattered all across northern Lebanon. And they are filling up with casualties from major centers of conflict in Syria nearby, such as Homs, Hama and Damascus.

Mazen says the flow of refugees in need of medical attention is increasing, one or two more than the day before. "We don't have specific numbers for the injured," Mazen said. He added that a few days earlier, 11 injured arrived in one day alone.

Due to concerns for the security of the injured, safe houses have been set up in various northern Lebanon locations. One safe house - which had never before received a visit from a journalist - looked just like any other house in the area.

But inside, injured Syrians fill some two dozen bunkbeds, or lay in matresses on the floor, in various stages of pre- and post-treatment.

Safe Houses

In one room, a 30-year-old man lies propped up on a mattress, sipping coffee. He is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the groin. Another man talks to him from an adjacent bed; both of his shins were shattered by a tank shell.

Syrian refugees recover in an improvised field clinic in northern Lebanon, March 2012

The road to recovery is long for injured Syrians in cash-strapped makeshift clinics

Many of those who arrive are badly injured, and not all survive. But here, at least they have a chance at trying.

One of the patients, Abdul Ahmed Ramen, said that like him, protesters flee to Lebanon because they feel it's no longer safe to seek medical attention in Syria. He received a shot in the leg and suffers from a serious infection, which Mazen is treating.

Ramen alleges that Syrian hospitals are being used for torture. "I have seen a lot of people entering the hospitals with non-life threatening injuries yet they come out dead," Ramen told DW.

There are makeshift clinics all over northern Lebanon, as ever more Syrians come for treatment they are too afraid to seek at home.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of using civilians as human shields. Many of these end up injured and scattered in neighboring countries - the UN now puts the number of refugees from the Syrian uprising at 130,000, spread mostly across Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Medical care on a shoestring

In Lebanon, the patchy, informal network of clinics and improvised hospitals is all the Syrian refugees have by way of health infrastructure. What holds the network together are hundreds of volunteering medics - like exiled Syrian dentist Mohammed Mazen - along with funds sent from the Syrian diaspora, and donations collected in Lebanon.

Ahmed Moussa, head of the Syrian Coordination Committee for Refugees in Lebanon, says these people need international help, but aren't getting it.

Syrian medics treat man injured in Damascus bomb blast, March 2012

There are allegations of torture in Syrian hospitals

His organization, which has developed over the past year, sees to the welfare and especially the health needs of Lebanon's growing refugee population. Moussa estimated that there are now more than 10,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Moussa said the international community should intervene and take responsibility for providing food, medicine and shelter. "So far, we've got nothing," Moussa told DW.

And for Mazen and his patients, it's already the end of the line for President al-Assad. "He's a killer," Mazen said. "How can a killer stay as the president?"

The men in the safe house are eager to get back on their feet and do what they can for a free Syria, even from the sidelines in Lebanon.

But for now, these makeshift beds and covert quarters are their lot.

Author: Don Duncan, Lebanon / sad
Editor: Anke Rasper

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