(IRIN) – The exodus of educated and skilled Syrians is increasingly depleting the country’s workforce and the quality of its health services, already strained by two years of conflict.
“The phenomenon is ongoing and growing,” said regional humanitarian coordinator Radhouane Nouicer.The flight of professionals has affected the bureaucracy, educational institutions and factories – but nowhere is the impact felt more than in the medical sector.
Late last year, the World Health Organization said all of the country’s nine psychiatrists and more than half the doctors in Homs had left the country. Clinics run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are short of surgeons and other medical experts.
This month, as the Syrian conflict entered its third year, the number of refugees surpassed one million. Observers worry the “brain drain” will affect Syria’s long-term future.
“These skills are much needed for rebuilding Syria tomorrow,” Nouicer told IRIN.
While Syria has been affected by the departure of educated people for decades due to the lack of economic opportunities and political freedom, the conflict has increased the shortages of doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers to unprecedented levels.
“One of the most alarming features of the conflict has been the use of medical care as a tactic of war,” the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria wrote in a report this month. “Medical personnel and hospitals have been deliberately targeted and are treated by parties to the conflict as military objectives.”
Many professionals have had difficulty getting visas to Europe and the Gulf states, and have instead ended up in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, where aid agencies are trying to make use of their skills through community mobilization and cash-for-work programmes in the camps’ schools and health centres. Others have decided to stay to try to address the needs in their country.
IRIN spoke to highly skilled professionals both inside and outside Syria about the difficult choice they faced and the impacts of their decisions – both on themselves and their country.