Syrian-born doctor: Protect medics so they don't die like my hero

Karim Al Jian was moved to train as a medic after the death of British doctor Abbas Khan in a Syrian prison

Karim Al Jian was inspired to study medicine by Abbas Khan, a British doctor who died in a Syrian prison eight years ago.

When Dr Al Jian graduated from medical school last month, the story of what inspired him touched the hearts of many, including Khan’s family, who gave him one of the late medic’s books.

Eight years after Khan's death, Dr Al Jian, who was born in Syria but raised in Britain, hopes to raise awareness of the dangers that medical workers face around the world.

Born in Aleppo, he was moved that Khan travelled there and sacrificed his life to help others during the country’s civil war.

Khan died while in custody in Damascus and an inquest jury in Britain later ruled that he was unlawfully killed. More than 900 medical personnel have died during the decade-long conflict.

“This is not acceptable by any means, particularly when British citizens are being targeted, which Abbas Khan was,” Dr Al Jian told The National.

“We don’t hear any of that, nor do we hear about facilities of NGOs such as MSF [Doctors Without Borders] being deliberately targeted by state actors.

“I think the only tangible or feasible thing to do is to raise awareness, make it go public and just bring that message out there for people.”

Dr Al Jian, 24, trained as a doctor at Brighton & Sussex Medical School on England’s south coast and now works at a hospital in Barnstaple, Devon.

“The medical school was really supportive, I can’t stress that enough, I can’t begin to say how grateful I am for that,” he said of his teachers.

After revealing what inspired him to become a doctor, having previously hoped to be a journalist, he was contacted by Khan's sister Sarah.

“This is so touching it has brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

The two later met in person, along with Khan's brother Shah.

“It was really, really heartwarming, really wholesome,” Dr Al Jian said.

“They gifted me one of his books that he read during his surgical training and that was really touching. It was really nice to talk to them.”

Khan travelled overseas to help refugees after being moved by the plight of those fleeing the violence in Syria. He initially worked at camps in Turkey.

A 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon, he was captured by Syrian government forces after crossing the border into Syria to help civilians in Aleppo.

He was never charged with a crime, but the regime claimed he entered the country without a visa.

His family said he died in a Syrian prison in December 2013, days before he was set to be released.

Hugh Robertson, a UK government minister at the time, said Khan had been “in effect murdered” by Syrian authorities.

Eight years on, MSF said the security problems in Syria continued to limit access for medics trying to provide humanitarian assistance.

Dr Al Jian wants people to come forward who like his hero were detained by the Syrian authorities.

“I do really want to emphasise a message for healthcare workers to be taken seriously and guaranteed safety. I think the first step is recognition," he said.

Updated: August 8th 2021, 5:26 PM