Turkey allows entry for Syrian cancer patients again after campaign to revoke ban

Turkey allows entry for Syrian cancer patients again after campaign to revoke ban
2 min read
26 July, 2023
Cancer patients suffering in northwestern Syria will once again be permitted entry into neighbouring Turkey to receive treatment following a months-long ban.
Syrians held solidarity protests with cancer patients in previous days calling on Turkey to allow entry for those who need treatment [Getty]

Turkey will allow entry for cancer patients from Syria to be treated in the country again after a months-long ban, an official from the Bab Al-Hawa crossing said Tuesday.

Cancer patients in rebel-held parts of northern Syria - where Ankara maintains a military presence - will be permitted to travel to Turkey to receive free treatment at government hospitals there, according to Bashir Ismail, director of the medical coordination office at Bab Al-Hawa.

A recent campaign in northwestern Syria had called on Turkish authorities and humanitarian agencies to help Syrian cancer patients, which included one Syria TV presenter shaving his head on screen to highlight the issue.

There is said to be around 3,000 cancer patients in the Idlib governorate, which falls under the control of the militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and lacks proper medical facilities, in part due to years of repeated regime and Russian bombing.

As the campaign grew, more journalists and activists called on Turkey to help, including pleas made to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey stopped granting entry permits following the massive 6 February earthquake which destroyed large swathes of Turkey's southeast – including hospitals - as well as northwestern Syria. It killed tens of thousands of people.

The earthquake - on top of years of conflict, regime bombardment, sieges, and economic collapse - has left Syrian cancer patients in a dire state and desperate for help.

Idlib's health director Zuhair Kharrat said that his workers are coordinating with local and international partners on a project to establish a cancer hospital in the region, but this will not be completed for another year and a half, he told Anadolu news agency.

There are some 323 Syrian cancer patients receiving treatment in Turkey, a far greater number needed help, Kharrat said, adding that Turkey could not bear this responsibility alone.

Sounding the alarm, he said there were 608 patients who needed immediate treatment, pointing to the lack of drugs and equipment needed for chemotherapy and radiotherapy in Idlib.

Turkey also hosts millions of Syrian refugees, some of which have been deported back. Ankara has long supported opposition groups but is now looking to normalise ties with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, following in the footsteps of several Arab states that have mended ties with Damascus.