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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

A Syrian doctor’s determination in the face of violence and displacement

Around the world, conflict is exacting a devastating toll on millions of children. With increasing frequency, children are being deliberately and indiscriminately attacked and denied life-saving humanitarian assistance.

We must protect the tens of millions of children caught in armed conflict. This World Humanitarian Day, join the United Nations and its partners in standing together to demand that children are #NotATarget. Learn more >

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2017/Alqassab
Dr. Khaled examines a child in a UNICEF-supported health centre in rural Lattakia, Syrian Arab Republic. When violence escalated in his hometown of Idleb, he fled with his family to safety and then returned alone to help treat children and families who had been displaced.

In the Syrian Arab Republic, around half of the 540,000 people living under siege are children. Follow Dr. Khaled, a humanitarian aid worker, as he puts his own safety at risk to provide medical care to children and families in his hometown.

By Lina Alqassab and Yasmine Saker

LATTAKIA, Syrian Arab Republic, 18 August 2017 – Two years ago, an escalation of violence in the northern Syrian city of Idleb forced Dr. Khaled and his family to flee their home. It was only four days after the birth of his son.

“My wife was still recovering from her caesarean delivery, and was suffering a severe post-partum depression,” said Dr. Khaled, recalling the day they fled their home.

“We were in a state of shock, overwhelmed by the frightening idea of having to leave our home forever.”

A long escape

The family left everything behind and set out to a secluded village in Idleb. The roads were almost entirely blocked by other families huddled in cars, all attempting to escape the violent attacks.

“It took us six hours on the road to complete a trip that should have taken one hour,” he said. “By the time we arrived, my son had developed eczema being in the scorching heat for so long. He even refused to breastfeeding, aggravating my wife’s anxiety.”

Despite reaching safety, living conditions in the village were harsh, with no water or electricity. Dr. Khaled’s family had to share one small rural house with three other families.

In the weeks that followed, they continued to move from one village to another, searching for a better life for their family. They eventually settled safely in Hama city.

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2017/Alqassab
Dr. Khaled measures the upper arm circumference of a child to test for malnutrition. After humanitarian access to Idleb was cut off, Dr. Khaled moved to Lattakia and now treats women and children at health centres there.

But despite the long, exhausting journey, Dr. Khaled didn’t stay.

He decided to return to their hometown of Idleb to help families fleeing violence, like his own.

Protecting Idleb’s children

Dr. Khaled is a UNICEF health and nutrition facilitator, and just months before he was forced to flee his home, he had been among the first to respond to an outbreak of violence in rural areas in the north of Idleb.

He was instrumental in launching much-needed immunization campaigns, distributing medical and nutritional supplies for children and mothers, and making regular visits to camps for internally displaced families. His work, supported by UNICEF, made a real difference in children’s lives.

After experiencing displacement first-hand, Dr. Khaled became even more determined to help children and their families.

“During my visits to the shelter, when I see a baby sleeping in a humble tent, or a mother carrying her sleeping baby while queuing for water or food, I imagine my wife and son. It could have been us,” he said.

A new beginning

In early 2016, a restriction on humanitarian access to Idleb and its suburbs meant Dr. Khaled could no longer continue his work there. He had no choice but to move with his family once again – this time to the coastal governorate of Lattakia.

Today, Dr. Khaled remains in Lattakia and continues to facilitate UNICEF-supported health and nutrition projects for children and mothers, especially those who have fled their homes seeking safety. In the city and suburbs, UNICEF supports 36 health centres delivering health care for mothers and children, including immunization, treatment for common childhood illnesses like sore throat and fever, reproductive health and prevention and treatment for malnutrition. UNICEF also supports three mobile health clinics to support all children in remote areas in the governorate and areas made hard to reach by the ongoing conflict.

Read next:

World Humanitarian Day 2017

Children are #NotATarget

In east Aleppo, clinics on wheels keep children healthy

Humanitarian action for children: Syrian Arab Republic



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