Humanitarian Activist Shares Stories of Syrian Refugees

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Samuel Merritt University (SMU) student Mohammad Deen, who has spent months over the past year providing medical care to Syrian refugees, said the biggest challenge in treating people who’ve escaped the horrors of war is helping them cope with mental health problems.

During a campus presentation on April 3, Deen recalled cutting a rope off of the neck of a distraught woman at a refugee camp in Greece who had witnessed the killing of her son in Syria. Another man asked Deen for poison so he could end his family’s suffering.

“And it’s not ending anytime soon,” Deen said of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Deen spoke just hours before Syria suffered one of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks in years that killed dozens of people, including children, and sickened many more.

During his SMU Community Learning Series presentation at the Fontaine Auditorium called “We Were All Once Refugees,” Deen reminded the audience that like him, most people’s parents or grandparents came to the United States from another country.

Despite studying full-time in SMU’s Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist program, Deen’s thoughts are never far from the plight of the Syrian refugees he met during medical missions to refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon.

“I am here to tell their stories,” said Deen, who has been speaking on college campuses across California in recent months.

During a school break in December, Deen led an international medical team to Lebanon where they treated 1,200 patients in a week. As he does on all of his medical missions, Dean hired a local “fixer” to help him navigate the refugee camps, buy medical supplies, and rent an ambulance that serves as a makeshift clinic.

“It’s controlled chaos,” he said. “You end up doing the best you can.”

Deen played a recent video he produced about his experiences with Syrian refugees, shedding light on the limited options they faced in their war-torn country as well as on their generous spirit. The video attracted the attention of people working with refugees in Europe and led to an invitation for Deen to speak at TEDxIHEParis on May 20.

“You always leave a part of your soul there,” said Deen of his humanitarian trips. He said he is considering traveling to Somalia — where millions are suffering from drought, famine and ongoing armed conflict — but admitted that trip would require hiring armed security guards.

Deen, an emergency medic by training, encouraged SMU students who are considering participating on a challenging overseas medical mission to do their research about the culture and the conditions on the ground. And, he said, they should wait until they graduate.

“You must be the best medical provider you can be,” he said.

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