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Syrian doctors turn to smuggling supplies as war rages on

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Smuggling routes have existed between Syria and Jordan as long as there has been a border. Today, instead of tax-free cigarettes and Lebanese hashish, they are used mostly to supply Syria’s beleaguered activists. Food, clothing, satellite phones, and phone cards are all smuggled in, but perhaps the biggest trade is in clandestine medical supplies.

Hospitals in Syria are controlled or heavily monitored by the government, and it's been common practice during the recent unrest to treat anyone wounded as if they are a rebel. There are numerous accounts of doctors being harassed and arrested, along with the injured people they were trying to help. If a pharmacy orders blood bags, or drugs that might be used to treat the injured, the security services may show up and arrest the pharmacist.

“There is a strategy based on rendering access to medical facilities difficult,” says Antoine Foucher, the head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Jordan and Iraq. MSF medical teams have gone into Syria to provide emergency medical aid, Mr. Foucher says, and have experienced the crackdown firsthand.

“Carrying drugs or surgical equipment in Syria is equal to carrying weapons, in the way you are treated by the security apparatus if you are caught,” he says.

Surging demand

With huge numbers of war-wounded, as well as people with ordinary injuries or illnesses who fear arrest if they use government hospitals, the demand for under-the-counter medical care is tremendous.

That is where people like the Syrian doctor come in. He and a colleague work in Jordan collecting medical supplies provided by wealthy donors, mainly Gulf Arabs or Syrian expatriates, and arrange for them to be carried over the border to the field hospitals. Until recently, both men were treating the wounded in Syria. Then they were found out and forced to flee.

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