How I spent last Saturday: Syrian Refugee Clinic

So, I’m a little tardy on getting this post up, but whatever, better late than never, right? 🙂  This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to be a part of a really great endeavour: a special clinic for the recent influx of Syrian refugees.

Now, a little background: Newfoundland usually gets a little over 100 refugees a year, and these are, in part, put through Gateway, the program that MUN Med students help with through volunteering: link. With the Syrian refugee crisis, Canada has committed to take 25 thousand Syrian refugees, with 11,000 already here.  This means that the 100ish refugees Newfoundland usually takes per year has tripled or quadrupled in just a few months and as such, the once weekly Gateway clinic can’t quite handle that influx.

So, to try and cope with this, Gateways set up a special clinic last Saturday, where instead of 1 or 2 families, 8-10 could be seen in a morning and afternoon session.  Med students who were available volunteered for the morning or afternoon (some people were there for the whole day for logistics), and they were assigned to a family and paired with a doctor to do histories, physicals, and then take the family through the rest of their tests (vision, hearing, BP, weight, height, vaccinations and bloodwork).

For myself (I was on the afternoon shift) the experience interested me on several fronts: a way to serve a patient need, a way to practice my skills, and way to help people who deserve that need that help, and I thought the experience was a really great one that I will definitely volunteer for again.  But it’s that last point – helping people who deserve it – that I want to focus on for a moment.

I won’t give any details about the family I had, only to say that they were incredibly sweet people who had survived conditions no one should have to endure and were so happy and grateful for our help.  One member of the family said something that really stuck with me when I was doing the brief psych screening.  They said that “They had no worries now. That it was bad in ______, but now that they were here, where people treated them like human beings, it was better, and they knew they would be ok.”

This is a beautiful statement, and as a country we should be proud of having a reputation that can inspire this sentiment.  And I do believe that there are many, many people who live up to that standard, and are welcoming to these people who need our help.

Syrian refugees receive welcome bags  at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga

Syrian refugees met by Prime Minister Trudeau, receive welcome bags at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada December 11, 2015.


Protest to the government to take in more refugees in after the death of Alan Kurdi.

And yet, despite this, our public discourse about Syrian refugees continues to be pretty poor.  Go to any article on refugees coming into the country and you’ll find the comment section rampant with islamophobia, declarations that we should “take care of our own before those other people” – as if we aren’t all people – incorrect straw men arguments about how refugees are criminals who are a drain on the system, or the truly stupid protestations like “well, they’ll be cold here, so they should go somewhere else.” The discourse that we have about refugees often doesn’t treat them as human beings, but rather as less than human, and that’s not ok.

Because beyond the blatantly obvious – that we are all humans, and should help people in need, no matter their race, religion or creed – there will be a day that the family that I worked with on Saturday do learn English: their main goal, because they wanted to be productive members of our society.  And on that day, I want them to be able to watch the news or check the internet, and not find that stupid, hideous hate.

Because that sentiment – that treats them like they were treated in some of the worst, most inhumane places on earth – doesn’t belong here in Canada.  If we claim to be a first world nation, then we have a moral responsibility as a people and a nation to be better than that small minded hate, and I hope we can change our discourse away from that.

Kindness is free, after all.

Hate is expensive.


3 thoughts on “How I spent last Saturday: Syrian Refugee Clinic

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