Meeting Syrian doctors on the Covid-19 frontline in France


At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the French hospital system faced an unprecedented health crisis and medical workers were overwhelmed, many foreign medics volunteered to support their French colleagues. Our reporters went to meet Syrian doctors living in France, who are committed to helping their host country – sometimes at the risk of their own lives – and whose skills in warzone medicine proved a valuable asset.


Back in early March, France's eastern region found itself at the centre of the Covid-19 health crisis. In the hospitals of Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Metz-Thionville, via those of Verdun and Bar-le-Duc, our reporters followed Hassan, an ER doctor specialised in warzone medicine; Basma, a gerontologist; Haytham, a paediatrician; Mohammed, a cardiologist and Jubran; a vascular surgeon. These Syrian doctors, who had often witnessed war in their home country and taken refuge in France, found themselves on the medical frontline once again.

In hospitals overcrowded with Covid-19 patients and with overwhelmed resuscitation teams, the Syrian doctors were noted for their composure and their ability to adapt quickly in critical situations.

And with good reason. While in Syria, Jubran, a vascular surgeon, treated the wounded from bombings. When the hospital where he worked in the northwestern city of Maarat al-Numan was bombed, he lost seven colleagues. For her part, Basma, a gerontologist, saw her hospital in the suburbs of the capital Damascus destroyed by the regime. Having found refuge in France, where they now practise, these doctors often saw their painful wartime memories resurface when Covid-19 struck their hospitals.

The war in Syria is what drove them into exile and what keeps Jubran's parents in a refugee camp in the northwestern Idlib region. While on the frontline in France, these doctors also remain mobilised to help their home country. Hassan, the ER doctor, founded the NGO SOS Syria, which brings aid and medical supplies to refugee camps. Jubran and Mohammed, meanwhile, provide medical support from a distance and, thanks to social media, try to educate people about Covid-19 hygiene measures. All of them hope that one day, Syria will find peace so that they can return home to practise in the country's hospitals.

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