In Syria, obviously security was also on the top of the list of priorities to be looked after and I have to say I learned the hard way on a couple of things in this area. We had some unfortunate incidents where people came in with weapons. No one was harmed but disturbing to say the least. This made us quickly look at how this needed to be corrected immediately. It is a basic ground rule of MSF projects worldwide that we will treat anyone who needs medical assistance, including soldiers or rebels, but all weapons must be left outside the MSF facility.
In a war context, there are unavoidable incidents that could jeopardize the security of our staff and patients. Physical changes were made to the hospital at the end of my mission to help solve these important problems. I was mostly involved in the practical aspect of security - training the watchmen, doing physical installations of the entrance in such a way to screen the people coming in the hospital and make it a gun-free zone. We set up an entrance where the staff and patients alike are screened before they enter the vicinity of the hospital. There are ‘layers of barriers’ or different stops before you could get inside – there’s one for mass casualty, for patients’ registration, and for the staff.
Daily security meetings were a key part of everyday. The field coordinator and I together with the medical focal point and security advisor have daily meetings every 8:30 in the morning; then another one which involves all the team. On regular days, we meet twice a day. On some bad days we had many more! I have never experienced such comprehensive security meetings in any other mission.
The security meetings are not only for staff safety but also to know what’s the next thing, to prepare for what’s going to happen next – when are we expecting influx of patients, what type of injuries are we expecting; who could work and handle patients cases; what’s needed, do we have enough supplies; is it going to be mass casualties or just some handful of wounded.
It was a very tough assignment because we are in the war. Though it was one of my best missions ever, it is just really a very bad and horrible situation for Syrians. I would go back if they asked me to though.