Syrian doctor fighting coronavirus in Scotland tells how he fled war-torn Damascus
Now working in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the medic, who fled Damascus at the height of the conflict, has told how the barbarity of war helped him deal with the horror of Covid-19.
A qualified doctor in his homeland, he was helped into work by a special government project, where he could put his life-saving skills in use to help the NHS.
Ahmed is backing the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to help millions still caught up in conflict in northwest Syria, now facing the threat of the virus without adequate medical care.
Dr Ahmed Subeh tells his story
The stress was everywhere at the beginning of the pandemic as we didn’t really know what were dealing with. We worked hard to try to make more beds available, especially in intensive care.
There were plans for us to deal with increased numbers of patients. I think we were lucky – we coped well and there was good teamwork all across the medical staff in Grampian.
Numbers increased at a slower rate in our area. Things peaked, it was a bit busy and then it started to ease off with the virus later on.
It was stressful at times but not as stressful as being in Syria.
With time, we knew exactly what we were doing. If we followed protocols, we knew we could avoid getting it.
It was all scary but the scariest part was when I was in Syria.
Unfortunately there, I witnessed lots of horrible stuff.
You hear it on the news and you wouldn’t imagine that you have actually been there and you have been living this. We have seen shellings, we have seen people killing other people.
I left Syria in 2015, heading towards Lebanon and a large ship with around 250 people going to Turkey. When we got there, we went to Ismir on the west coast, across from the Greek islands.
Back then, you had to find a smuggler to help you find a boat and put you on your way to Greece.
A guy said he would take us to Samos. They took us in a van in the middle of the night. We jumped on the boat, it was about 32ft long and we were stacked on each other. The island seemed close but it was further away than we thought. We were in the water for four hours but had only made three-quarters of the distance.
The waves were scary because you felt like the boat might tip over at any time. A boat shined a light on us so we stopped. It was the Greek coastguard and they told us to stay where we were.
I volunteered to translate. I asked: “What will happen next?”
One of the coastguards said: “What is going to happen is that you will shut up and do as you are told’. I told the others that is was cool and everything was fine.
They took us to Samos. We were photographed and given papers and I stayed there for a while. We headed on a larger ship to Athens. I met a guy who made fake IDs and then tried four times to get on a flight to France.
From France, I took a train to Italy, then I got on a plane to Edinburgh Airport. I landed in October 2015 and went to Border Control, told them I was Syrian and I wanted to seek asylum.
It was intense at every part of the journey. It was all stressful, I lost nearly a stone just to get here.
In Syria at the moment, there is a bit of a delayed hit with Covid-19. A few friends of mine got it and luckily they are recovering.
Their health system is not as strong as the NHS. They can’t work online or isolate, the population is more dense and they face shortages in the medical staff once it hits them. It’s a tense, critical time there at the moment.
I am very happy in Scotland. My wife Dana joined me in 2016 and we have a son, Nabeel, who turns one soon. People were very nice.
People call us “new Scots” – I like that. With time, we will become old Scots.