Direct Relief

5 Impressions From Caring for Syrian Refugees

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 6.8 million Syrians have been displaced and require humanitarian assistance since civil conflict began in 2011. Longtime Direct Relief board member Bert Green, MD recently led a mission to Jordan to provide medical care to refugees. Below are five impressions he shared after the trip.

1. War crosses all classes

Some of the people we cared for were farmers and from small villages; others were middle-class urban families. Some were living in ad-hoc camps, in fields, or on the outskirts of a village, while others were living together with several other families in apartments in Amman. Some were barely literate while others were well educated. Most of the people we treated were either women or elderly, although the majority of the people came with children. The refugees aren’t allowed to work in Jordan. They live off of the benevolence of others or assistance from the United Nations Human Relief Agency.

My parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors and the horrors these people are going through in Syria and Jordan are very similar to the experiences my parents, their friends and relatives, went through during World War II. The stories we heard ran the gamut from neighborhoods being destroyed to relatives raped and then thrown into ravines. Families fled in terror hoping for some safety.

2. Among their worst fears is that of being ignored

In addition to the horrors of this war, the lack of hope and the sadness of knowing that their homes and their world have been destroyed, leaving nothing to go back to, many people expressed that their worst fear is that their plight is being ignored and forgotten by the rest of the world. We tried to assuage them a bit of that hopelessness. Children and adults would quickly number a thousand wherever we would set up. We were a small group—psychiatrists and psychologists as well as physicians, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists—but we were able to do good work and I hope help them feel less alone.

3. The resources provided were critically needed

Direct Relief provided essential medicines and medical resources to support this mission. Direct Relief’s aid made available medicines that would have otherwise needed to be purchased, which would have proved too great an expense. This assistance freed up money to buy formula, diapers, and other essential non-pharmaceutical products to care for people who have been displaced.

4. Of the most important things we brought were 300 pairs of reading glasses

Glasses that had been unavailable to refugees until now had an immediate impact on their lives. This woman received an eye exam from my sister, who is a pediatric opthamologist living in Miami. The Syrian woman was living in the Za’taari Refugee Camp and was nearly blind with bilateral cataracts. Glasses improved her vision dramatically.

5. Hope remains

Amidst the despair and suffering, I saw moms and dads who love their children, care for their families, and want just what we want. They hope for safety, for freedom, to be treated humanely and respectfully and to care for and love their children. They want to know that the rest of the world hasn’t forgotten them. We have a unique opportunity to show them that we do care.

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