- By AMBER TURBA, Special to the Olean Times Herald
The European Union has been dealing with a refugee crisis that shows no signs of resolution. Instead, thousands of refugees are fleeing home to escape war and violence and living out of tents in less‑than ideal conditions — a dire situation that an Olean doctor and his daughter witnessed firsthand, and have now returned home from.
“We spoke to several people and they said they would rather have died a quick death in Syria versus a slow death in Greece, and that’s what’s been happening there,” said Dr. Tahir Chauhdry of Women’s Health of Western New York.
Chauhdry and his daughter, Anisah, recently returned from a nine‑day mission to refugee camps in Thessaloniki, Greece. They traveled with the Syrian American Medical Society that brought a team of doctors, nurses and translators.
“Sometimes, it is necessary to aid the less fortunate of the world,” Chauhdry said. “Even basic needs are hard pressed for these refugees. Many of these refugees are doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers, etc. They have risked everything to find a better tomorrow for their families, and leaving their homes and lives because of war and violence is a tragedy in and of itself.”
Though Chauhdry is an OB‑GYN, he was able to provide all types of medical care while serving at the camps.
“I did ultrasounds, or for anybody that had any problems, something minor like a mosquito bite or something major like a fracture, abdominal pain, chest pain,” he said.
Chauhdry and his daughter volunteered at three different camps. While government provided food and some shelter, he said the conditions were less than ideal — like having 20 toilets for more than a thousand people. But he added that in non‑government camps, it’s every man or woman for themselves.
“We’ve met people who lived there for six months and every night they try to cross the border; we met one lady in her mid‑30s and when you looked at her, you would never have imagined she’d trekked almost 250 miles to Belgrade, Serbia, with a smuggler until she got caught,” Chauhdry said.
Some of the camps lacked basic necessities, like running water. Chauhdry said the people living in tents were families, many with small children and nowhere to go.
“There was this one man who said that he would rather join ISIS than stay in the camps,” said Anisah Chauhdry, a St. Bonaventure University freshman student.
Dr. Tahir Chauhdry explained that about 50,000 refugees are currently living in Greece. Six months ago, the peak refugee population was more than 200,000.
More than half of all displaced people were children, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
These refugees have fled their homes in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, according to Chauhdry. The majority of these people have left due to war, religious persecution and other atrocities. They are going to countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Greece and Italy, and most are trying to join their families.
“The trek is arduous and life‑threatening,” Chauhdry explained.
More than a million migrants and refugees have traveled from the shores of Turkey to Greek islands since early 2015, according to Associated Press reports. At the height of the refugee crisis, families crossed in dinghies and unsafe boats and continued to mainland Europe, which triggered border closures across the continent.
This harrowing journey has been successful for some. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean route has been a graveyard for many.
“The border was closed recently,” said Chauhdry, “and a lot of people were under the impression they were going to get through really quick — and the first wave of refugees did get through. Unfortunately, these people are going to be stuck for possibly months or even years.
“Providing humanitarian and medical relief is the least that Anisah, myself and all the people who have supported this mission can do. Some in spirit, others in words of encouragement, or through financial donations. We are all human. We all deserve to be treated that way.”