VIDEO | Filipino Volunteer Docs Stay Put in Yemen after Attack on MSF Hospital

By: Carla Lim, News5
January 13, 2016 11:28 AM

MANILA – Filipino members of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have chosen to stay in Yemen in spite of the recent attacks in Shiara Hospital last January 10. In an exclusive Skype interview with News 5, Filipino medical specialist Dr. Natasha Reyes, Emergency Response Support Manager of MSF, condemned the continuous bombing in Yemen between the Saudi forces and Yemeni rebels called “Houthis”, noting that this has already become a pattern since October last year when two hospitals were destroyed.

According to Reyes, this is clearly a violation of the humanitarian law. “I have spoken about this before, hospitals are protected under the international humanitarian law or the rules of war. It is not being respected. My stand, and the MSF stand on this, is [that] this cannot happen again; this has to stop immediately.”

While worrying about the destruction of medical facilities in Yemen, the Filipino doctor said they will not pull out their teams from the war-torn country that experts assess would be needing enormous help especially in normalizing health care. “Right now we are still very much committed in supporting the population in Yemen in terms of health care. Alhough, [in] that

hospital that was bombed, of course we have to close down the hospital because it cannot function anymore. The patients were transferred to other hospitals supported by MSF. Yes, we’re still there.”

Volunteers in danger

The continuous attacks in Yemen have led to a shortage of medical supplies. However, MSF volunteers are trying their best to replenish the stocks and help the people on the ground in any way possible. “We’re always looking at different angles in sending our supplies. It could be via air or land,” Dr. Reyes said, while also admitting that some of these attempts were not successful because of the high-risk situations.

“We do the best that we can to bring in supplies and provide technical support to the people on the ground. That in itself is also challenging because you’ll be bringing in supplies through the frontline so it’s dangerous; sometimes it doesn’t happen.”

No one from the Yemeni and Saudi governments provides protection to the medical volunteers. Still, Reyes proudly says that their principles – mainly, being neutral at all times – kept them away from danger. “We don’t take sides, basta pasyente ka kahit soldier o rebelde ka pa, kahit anong religion basta wala kang armas, gagamutin ka namin [If you’re a rebel or soldier, regardless of your religion, as long as you’re not bearing arms, we will treat you].” However, the recent bombing last Sunday in Shiara Hospital resulted in five deaths and 10 injured victims, including four from MSF, two of whom are still in critical condition.

The forgotten evacuees

Locals who were evacuated in the high-risk areas such as Sa’ad were placed in schools for temporary sanctuary. However, after months of living in these evacuation centers, people are now furious, feeling neglected by the government. According to Hassan, one of the refugees, they’re not given any food supplies nor even blankets to sleep on. “They just registered our names and left us without anything. It has been two months since I fled, we are neglected,” Hassan said in Arabic.

Saleh, another refugee, is deeply frustrated with their situation, as they don’t have supplies for their basic needs like oven, gas nor wood for cooking. They were forced to burn plastic bottles for cooking, though this could be dangerous for their health, especially the children.

Ongoing repatriation

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs has been consistently repatriating Filipino overseas workers currently in Yemen. As of now 800 Filipinos still remain in the country, according to Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, DFA spokesperson, but locating some of them is now a big challenge because of difficulties in the communication lines.



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