ResourcesPress Release

Syria’s Neighbors Must Let Doctors Practice

Physicians for Human Rights calls on refugee-receiving countries to allow Syrian medical professionals to work

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling on world leaders to prioritize Syria’s shattered health system by creating mechanisms for thousands of displaced medical professionals to temporarily practice in neighboring countries. PHR’s call comes in light of this week’s conference of donor governments meeting in London to discuss response to the Syrian crisis.

PHR released a paper calling on donor governments attending the conference to convene the governments of Jordan, Lebanon, and Türkiye as well as private donors, representatives from key international organizations and medical groups, to ensure Syrian health professionals who have fled the country can practice medicine and alleviate some of the burden on health infrastructures in the neighboring countries.

“Regulations that prevent Syrian doctors and other skilled Syrian health professionals from practicing in neighboring countries unnecessarily exacerbate suffering and have consequences far beyond the immediate needs of the Syrian refugees,” said Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. “To be sure, authorities anywhere have a legitimate interest in regulating who is allowed to practice medicine in their territory. But the scale of the Syrian crisis and massive unmet health needs of Syrian refugees demand at least a temporary solution.

“Medical workers who have not been able to practice – or those who fled without completing their training – are missing education and losing skills that will be crucial to rebuilding Syria’s now decimated health care system. Regulatory roadblocks can be lifted without military action or UN Security Council agreement. This must be a priority.”

Limiting Syrian medical professionals’ ability to practice medicine is one of the dire consequences of the Syrian government’s massive five-year assault on doctors and medical facilities. Estimates indicate that more than half of Syria’s 30,000 doctors have fled – and as health care professionals are killed or driven out, entire communities are left without any medical care.

According to PHR’s data, 2015 marked the worst year on record for attacks on medical facilities in Syria, with government forces responsible for most of the more than 100 attacks. Between March 2011 and November 2015, the latest month for which data is available, there were 336 attacks on 240 medical facilities, 90 percent of them committed by Syria and its allied forces. In the same period, 697 medical personnel were killed, with Syria and its allies responsible for 95 percent of the deaths. PHR tracks these findings in an interactive map, which includes photographic and video documentation of these crimes. In November, PHR released a report detailing the Syrian government’s attacks on health care, “Aleppo Abandoned: A Case Study on Health Care in Syria.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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