Local doctor campaigns for medical aid in Syrian refugee crisis

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On Nov. 4 in the Medical Sciences Building at UVic, guests had an opportunity to meet local doctor Saren Azer, founder of the International Society for Peace and Human Rights (ISPHR). Introduced by his friend and colleague Julie Angus, a UVic alumna who has family in Syria, Dr. Azer was present to speak about his “Medical Hope for Syria” campaign. The campaign has been put in place to bring medical supplies to Syrian refugees who had to leave their country due to an unexpected war.

With the current militant crisis happening in Syria, millions of Syrian citizens have been left with no choice but to seek safety in neighbouring countries, only to find themselves either banned from entry or in camps with no ability to support their basic human needs. Countries around the world that are able to provide support are offering little, with the Canadian government contributing only 10 spots for refugees, despite estimates that four million Syrians have already been internally displaced.

Working as a humanitarian since his own experience as a refugee in 1994, Azer launched the “Medical Hope for Syria” campaign in 2013, after volunteering at the Domiz Refugee Camp in Northern Iraq. According to Azar, the Domiz Refugee Camp currently has 80 000 occupants—completely overriding the original capacity of the camp, which was never intended to handle that many people, and is now lacking the money and facilities to continue operating. On a personal note, Azer spoke of his own journey as a refugee from Syria, and commented on how something as simple as receiving a pair of shoes was one of the happiest moments of his life. Indeed, it is striking how something many Canadians take for granted every day—shoes, $5 spent on a latté, washroom facilities—can mean the difference between life and death for a refugee.

With money raised from the “Medical Hope for Syria” campaign, ISPHR has already been able to send 150 Physician Travel Packs (PTPs)—suitcase-sized boxes with medical supplies for up to 600 treatments (enough to save 60 lives)—to the Domiz Refugee Camp. ISPHR has been fortunate to have the support of the not-for-profit relief and development agency, Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC), with securing medical supplies from pharmaceutical companies for as low as six per cent of the real cost. Guests of Azer’s lecture learned that, because of HPIC’s ability to leverage costs and the fact that humanitarians volunteering with ISPHR must pay for their own travel and supplies, Canadian donations can make an exponential difference to the refugee situation.

“Believe and acknowledge, not just in words and thoughts, but in your hearts and actions,” says Azer. “Do not underestimate a contribution, no matter how small it is.”

The UVic Student Ambassadors are proud to support the “Medical Hope for Syria” campaign as their global service project for 2013, putting $575 towards the purchase of a PTP. For more information on donating or volunteering for the cause, go to the project’s website (www.peaceandhumanrights.org), or contact Lynn Foster, ISPHR secretary, at fosterlf@shaw.ca.

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