Iraqi refugee youngster flown to Monaco from Syria for heart surgery

News Stories, 30 June 2009

© Michele Faramia/Rencontres Africaines
Basim in France with the host family he will be staying with.

MONTE CARLO, Monaco, June 30 (UNHCR) An infant Iraqi refugee has been flown to Europe for life-saving surgery under an accord signed here less than two weeks ago between UNHCR and the Mediterranean principality of Monaco.

Basim Omar Basim, aged two-and-a-half, flew out of Damascus on Friday and is being looked after by a host family in southern France. Basim, the first child to benefit under the landmark agreement signed on World Refugee Day (June 20), is expected to undergo heart surgery in Monaco early next week.

"This child's departure for Monaco gives a concrete expression of the benefits of the agreement and we hope more medical evacuations will follow in the near future," Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR's acting representative in Syria, said shortly before the young boy left for Europe.

Basim was chosen for surgery when two Monegasque doctors, Fran├žois Bourlon, a cardio-thoracic paediatrician, and orthopaedic surgeon Tristan Lascar, were flown to Damascus by UNHCR and the Monaco government in early March to examine Iraqi refugee children in need of medical treatment not available in Syria.

Dr. Bourlon recommended that the seriously ill young Iraqi be sent to Monaco for urgent surgery, believing that it would improve his chances of survival. Basim was flown free of charge to Monaco by the Aviation Sans Frontieres charity. "This complicated and very expensive open-heart surgery is not possible in Syria," explained Adam Musa Khalifa, UNHCR's senior public health officer in Damascus.

Basim's family were not able to travel to Monaco and they have found it difficult being without their son, but they realize that this is a crucial and rare opportunity that could ensure that he lives a healthy, dignified and long life. Rencontres Africaines, a French non-governmental organization, was also involved in the operation to bring Basim to Europe.

Funds for the programme were raised last year by various charity groups to mark Prince Albert of Monaco's 50th birthday. UNHCR has been handling administrative and logistical aspects of the programme as well as working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to identify children in need of care.

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.

Francois Hurstel in Damascus, Syria contributed to this article