Dr. Suray Bakkar used to be a specialist in Syria’s largest university clinic. Today, the 41 year-old can only sadly shake his head at the conditions under which the physicians in his home country are forced to work. In the territories occupied by the rebels there is a grave shortage of drugs and medical equipment. Bakkar says: “They are doing a lot of surgeries without sterile gloves, sometimes without gloves at all. Especially in blockaded areas, the situation is bad. They’re using tissues or garbage bags for gauze.”
Bakkar was forced to flee to Jordan. He had attempted to continue his work in Syria as long as he could, treating the injured and wounded in the clinic on a daily basis. But in his hometown of al-Houwla, a city just outside Homs, wounded patients asked him to help. He treated them as well, without making a distinction between followers of the Assad regime or sympathizers with the revolution. “It is simply our job to help the injured. Sick people, women, children – and that is what we did in Syria as well. But the Assad regime didn’t want to accept that,” Bakkar recounts. He came into the focus of the Syrian secret service. The regime had doctors arrested who had treated rebels or revolution sympathizers.
Bakkar was jailed in Homs, subjected to the cruel methods of torture employed there by the intelligence service, or mukharabat jawiyye: “They practice all kinds of punishment toward arrested people, using electricity, killing, psychological punishment. They want to make you afraid all the time.”
The secret service held him for four days with six other detainees in a pitch-black 2×1-meter room, in shackles and without clean drinking water. After that, Bakkar was able to buy his freedom with a bribe of 170 000 Syrian lira – a discharge that was illegal under the Syrian regime. Bakkar says: “After that, yes, I decided to leave Syria.”
Bakkar fled to Jordan. But despite leaving the country, he wanted to continue to help his fellow Syrians as a medical doctor. He joined forces with some other physicians who had also escaped and together they founded the Akilah Hospital in Amman, a Jordanian city 100 kilometers from the Syrian border. The special thing about this hospital is that the patients don’t have to pay for their treatment, because it is financed by a US non-profit organization called “Syria Relief & Development” (SRD).
Since opening on July 1, 2012, the medical staff at Akilah Hospital have treated numerous Syrian refugees, especially those who come from the Zataari Camp, the largest refugee camp in Jordan, right on the border the Syria. According to SRD figures, around 24 000 refugees were treated in 2013. Many of them had suffered serious injuries from the bombings, missile attacks or exchanges of fire that are the terrible daily routine in Syria. Specialists in the fields of pediatrics, gynecology, urology, ENT, cardiology and psychiatry now work in the Akilah clinic.
But they don’t only treat Syrian patients. Anyone unable to afford medical care is given help in Akilah Hospital, irrespective of where they come from or what they have been through. “The first priority is the injured people”, Bakkar emphasizes. “The second is the sick, either from the Zaatari Refugee Camp or those living inside Jordan who have emigrated during this war. Also, we are helping the poor people, whoever they are.”
When the clinic began operations, many people came from Syria to Jordan, taking the exodus upon themselves in the knowledge that they would receive good medical care at Akilah Hospital. They came across the border to Amman from cities like Daraa and Damascus. But in August 2014, Jordan changed its immigration laws. Increasingly, Syrian refugees were refused asylum. They were deported or were not allowed to cross the border again. It was a regulation that also affected to the doctor and hospital director Bakkar. He had just finished a business trip in Frankfurt when he was refused entry to Jordan.
Bakkar currently lives in an refugee center in Wörth am Main in Germany’s state of Lower Franconia. He has a work permit, but he doesn’t yet speak German well enough to be able to get a job in a hospital. “I even applied to work as a volunteer, simply so that I don’t get out of practice,” Bakkar explains. “But they turned me down.” Bakkar is taking a crash course in German so that he can resume work as a doctor and help people in need as soon as possible, just as he did in Syria and Jordan, and as his fellow doctors continue to do in Akilah Hospital to this day. Bakkar won’t let anything – be it torture in a Syrian jail, an escape to Jordan or a drastic new beginning in Germany – keep him from practicing his profession as physician.
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