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Chicago Doctor Treated Syrian Refugees On Greek Island Of Lesbos


There are still thousands of refugees and migrants trying to get to Europe even though EU countries are imposing more border controls after the Paris attacks. The man we'll talk to next has just spent some time with refugees, many of them from Syria. He is a Chicago doctor who leads the Syrian American Medical Society. He is now back in the U.S. after treating refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, and he's also led a dozen medical missions inside Syria since the civil war began. Dr. Zaher Sahloul, welcome to the program.

ZAHER SAHLOUL: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: This was your first time in Lesbos. I mean, what kind of injuries and medical issues were you treating there?

SAHLOUL: Most of the injuries are related to the trip that the refugees are taking from the Turkish sides to Lesbos islands. Usually large number of refugees who are stuffed in a small - and although the distance is about four or five miles between the Turkish and the Greek side - but it takes between 45 minutes to two hours. And if the boat landed in a rocky area, then you will have some injuries, bruises, fractures, dislocations. And sometimes you have elderly patients with chronic diseases who need treatment for their conditions. Many of these boats arrive at night, and the weather is usually is cold. And the people are wet, and most of the critical injuries are related to hypothermia.

MCEVERS: And you yourself are Syrian. And I imagine many of the people you met there are Syrian. What were they telling you about why they left Syria?

SAHLOUL: Yeah. I mean, the reason that I went is to see what's going on. In the last month, there were about 2,000 to sometimes 5,000 refugees arriving into the island every day. And most of the Syrian refugees told me that they are either fleeing bombing in some of the cities like Aleppo and so forth. Some of them are fleeing from ISIS.

I saw one woman who has two young children. She lost her husband in the war, and she said that she was forced to see a public execution in the city of Manbij near Aleppo that's under the control of ISIS - her and her children. And her child who's 5 years old was seeing nightmare, and she could not take it anymore.

Some of the refugees also told me that they're fleeing the Russian bombing...


SAHLOUL: ...In some of the areas in Northern Syria. But the majority, I would say - they've been inside Syria or Turkey for some times, and now they lost hope. And they decided that enough is enough and it's time to go to a place where they have at least future for themselves and for their children.

MCEVERS: As we mentioned, you have been inside Syria several times to treat people during the civil war over the last few years. In your mind, what needs to be done to stop that violence so people wouldn't need to flee their country?

SAHLOUL: When I ask people, what do you think we should do so you can stay in Syria, I mean, the same answer over and over, that - stop the war; stop the crisis. But you know, if we stop barrel bombs from falling from the skies, if we stop the siege on some of these communities near Damascus, then people can at least start to breath. The NGOs like ours can focus on providing health care and education without being fearful that our hospital will be bombed if we can convince the international community to focus on the political process so we can have a political transition. And to end the crisis in Syria, I think that would be the best thing that we can do for them. These are not threat. The people I've seen are people who are desperate, and they are in need for our assistance, and I think our politicians have to look at them through the prism of humanity, not through the prism of terrorism.

MCEVERS: Dr. Zaher Sahloul, who heads the Syria American Medical Association, thank you so much for your time today.

SAHLOUL: Thank you very much for raising awareness about this very important issue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.