From early 2011, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was unable to operate in Syria, and was therefore obliged to suspend its work with migrants and refugees in the capital Damascus.
In April, as unrest and violence increased, teams started to provide Syrian doctors with medicines and other medical supplies. In June, the MSF surgical team in Amman, Jordan, received their first Syrian patient. In November, teams began offering mental healthcare to Syrians who had fled to Lebanon.
Unregistered migrants in need of healthcare
Syria is host to hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, many of whom have fled poverty or conflict in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan. A large proportion of them are living in the country unregistered, in precarious conditions, with limited access to medical care.
In August 2009, MSF launched a healthcare project in the capital Damascus, in partnership with a local organisation, known as the Migrant’s Office. Based in a clinic, a team consisting of doctors, gynaecologists and a psychologist provided free basic healthcare, antenatal care and mental health services for unregistered refugees and migrants, focusing specifically on the most vulnerable, including women and children.
Between January and March 2011, 1,965 patients received medical attention. Staff held more than 220 antenatal consultations and over 140 patients received mental healthcare through individual consultations and group sessions.
Withdrawal amid growing unrest
The widespread unrest in the country, which began in March 2011, made it very difficult for MSF to continue its work inside Syria, and the team had to suspend collaboration with the Migrant’s Office. MSF continued to try to gain access to Syria in order to respond to the humanitarian and medical needs resulting from the violence.
From neighbouring countries, MSF supported Syrian doctors’ work by providing them with medical supplies and essential drugs. In Amman, Jordan, where MSF has a reconstructive surgery programme, surgeons operated on 23 wounded Syrians who had managed to cross the border.
In Lebanon, MSF donated emergency supplies to health centres near the border with Syria. In November, a team set up a mental health programme in the northeastern region of Wadi Khaled, where staff conducted individual consultations and group sessions with Syrians who had fled their country.
At the end of 2011, MSF had 48 staff in Syria. MSF has had operational activities in Syria since 2009.