Syrian Refugees: healthcare professionals in Germany

Over 5.6 million people have become refugees as an outcome of the Syrian war; majority residing in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Since 2015, more than 1 million refugees, mostly Syrian, entered Europe via Greece looking for transitioning to Northern Europe to seek asylum. Many refugees preferred Germany because of the welcoming policies for integration, which included liberal healthcare, asylum laws, pre-existing familial links and educational advantages. As of December 2018, because of favorable decisions regarding resettlements and asylum claims, there have been almost 700,000 Syrians residing in Germany, a huge increase since 2016.

A good number of these Syrian refugees in Germany hold university degrees and qualifications which include dentists, medical doctors and other healthcare workers. The German Medical Association reveals unofficial numbers saying that in the past year most of foreign doctors are Syrian, and in 2017 almost 737 Syrian physicians entered the German workforce. There has also been an estimation that more than 3370 Syrian doctors work in Germany, which includes those who resided there before the Syrian conflict. However, the true number is underestimated as it excludes those having German citizenship or completing their registration. Generally, not much is known about the number of healthcare workers who are qualified among Syrian refugees. This could be because of the lack of data collection from new arrivals while they entered Germany; even though the option for occupation is there in the Refugee Resettlement Form that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) uses, it’s not there in the data taken through the emergency UNHCR registration process. This restricts the capability of host countries for estimating the figure of healthcare workers their refugee populations have, and for supporting them for integrating into the local healthcare workforce.

There exist historical precedents where refugee healthcare workers mix really well into host countries. After World War II, refugee healthcare workers were welcomed by the UK into the National Health Service; likewise in the 1950s, Egypt welcomed refugee healthcare workers from Palestine. Recently, Snabbsparet was launched by Sweden, an initiative for accrediting licenses of new immigrants, for the health sector following negotiations between trade unions and associations. Pressure has been put on some governments by their medical associations for preventing Syrian healthcare workers from integration (Jordan, Lebanon), however others like Turkey have gone for the retraining of doctors and for restricting their work to practicing in Migrant Health Centers.