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Pharmacist Delivers Health, Creates Community in Turkey

GAZIANTEP — Every morning Dr. Younes heads to the pharmacy next to his home in this Turkish border town, where there is rising demand for Arabic-speaking pharmacists as ailing Syrian refugees, unable to speak anything but Arabic, pour across the border.

Written by Akil Hussein Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Since he fled Syria 10 months ago, the 55-year-old pharmacist managed to find employment quickly, at a time when most displaced Syrians are struggling to find work.

Younes made himself indispensable to the growing population of Syrians along the border, using his Arabic and English language skills to serve the demand for medicine by those fleeing to Gaziantep and other Turkish cities. Most Turks in southern cities do not speak Arabic, or even English, despite their proximity to the Syrian border.

The manager at the Turkish pharmacy where he works said that since Younes began, sales have increased, boosted by refugees. Previously, he said most of his customers had not been able to explain their symptoms to a medical technician.

In Syria, it is common for people to depend on their local pharmacist to prescribe and administer drugs for easily treated conditions like flu and stomach ailments. Before the conflict began, this would help poorer Syrians circumvent a doctor’s fee, which many could not pay because they were already poor. Now their financial situations have further deteriorated.

Loyalty runs deep for the corner pharmacist. “Many of my customers in Aleppo became my customers here in Gaziantep after they found out where I work,” Younes said. As the news of his arrival spread, the pharmacy became a destination for Syrians seeking medical advice.

Given the language barrier, “they had found it difficult” to ask their pharmacists for advice in Gazientep.

He added that during his early months of his employment, the pharmacy was flooded by Syrians residing in Gaziantep, before competing Turkish pharmacies realized out what was going on and followed suit by hiring Arabic-speaking pharmacists. Now there is a demand for Syrian pharmacists, drug experts and even the Syrian pharmacy students studying at nearby Gaziantep University.

A graduate of Aleppo University, Younes has 25 years of experience in pharmaceuticals. His expertise, along with help from old friends who had immigrated before him, were key in securing him a job once he fled Syria. He even found work for his son, who graduated from medical school two years ago.

Despite low wages, he says his current situation is acceptable – and even desirable – when compared to most Syrians who were forced to leave home. Combined, he and his son pull in $1,400 per month. Of that, $500 goes to rent and the rest goes to providing the basics for his family.

Over time, Dr. Younes says, he has gotten used to his routine in this Turkish city and has stopped comparing his life now to his old life in Aleppo, which he fled after receiving threats from members of the Free Syrian Army. They threatened to kill Younes and his son when they refused to come live in the opposition-held side of the city. They also accused him of being pro-regime and working with the security services because he remained in the government-held area.

“I wish I could [have stayed], but neither the regime nor the opposition helped me,” he says, adding that he was forced to leave Aleppo “because everyone living on Syrian soil is in danger and could die at any moment.”

Younes says that while he was not overtly pro-revolution and did not actively help the rebels for fear of retribution by the regime (a fear he says he still has here in Turkey), he insists that neither he nor his son were particularly fond of Assad.

“We stayed [in Syria] to serve the people who came to my pharmacy, and my son helped in the government hospital where he works. Many of the residents who lived in areas held by the opposition fled to safety elsewhere.”

As we leave the pharmacy, Younes, finished with his tea, carries on with his work, assisting both the Syrians and Turks lining up for his attention.

This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.

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