Monaco rallies to help sick refugee children in Syria

News Stories, 3 March 2009

© UNHCR/J.Wreford
Refugees at a health centre in Damascus. Monaco is helping sick refugee children in Syria.

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 3 (UNHCR) Two seriously ill refugees in Syria are expected to be flown this summer to Monaco for surgery under a project launched to mark the 50th birthday last year of Monaco's ruler, Prince Albert II.

The two were among a group of children examined in Damascus last week by two visiting Monégasque doctors, François Bourlon, a cardio-thoracic paediatrician, and orthopaedic surgeon Tristan Lascar. Their mission was made possible with the help of the UN refugee agency and the Monaco government.

UNHCR staff and Syrian health officials prepared a list of about 30 refugee children, including Somalis and Iraqis, in urgent need of medical care that could not be provided in Syria. The doctors saw 10 children at the Al-Zahera Clinic suffering from orthopaedic or cardiological ailments, and identified three as priority cases.

Two, aged eight and three, will be sent to Monaco for treatment later this year, while the third could be operated on at the clinic, which will soon become the largest paediatric medical facility in Syria.

The two children, one of whom needs heart surgery, will be flown to Monaco by the French non-governmental organization, Aviation sans Frontières, which works with UNHCR in resettlement cases. Once in the principality, the young patients will be hosted by local families, but will be in regular touch with their parents back in Syria.

Adam Musa, UNHCR's senior public health officer in Syria, said that convincing the parents to let their children go to Monaco alone will be very difficult. The two surgeons said they were ready to return to Syria for further consultations and to conduct operations in Damascus on refugee children suffering from ailments within their sphere of expertise.

They also said they were happy to share their skills with Syrian colleagues, so that they could help more children in the future. "We met a good medical team and rapidly found a common language that enabled us to share our knowledge with our Syrian counterparts," said Doctor Bourlon, adding that this would make it easier to identify children in need of their help in the future.

The medical evacuation programme comes almost a year after various charity groups marked Prince Albert's 50th birthday by raising funds to enable the medical evacuation of sick children from poor countries to receive surgery in Monaco.

Also last year, the prince said he would like to develop stronger political and humanitarian ties between his small, but wealthy principality and the UN refugee agency.

The Principality of Monaco, situated on the French Riviera, is the world's second smallest independent nation. It has a surface area of 196 hectares (485 acres) and is home to around 32,000 people, making it one of the most densely populated countries on earth.

By Marie-Ange Lescure in Damascus, Syria