Turkish Pharmacies Stop Giving Syrian Refugees Free Drugs

AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

A group of 5,000 pharmacies in Istanbul, Turkey, released a letter explaining their refusal to provide free drugs to refugees of the Syrian Civil War. They accuse the federal government of not providing them with the funds necessary to continue the humanitarian program.

Hurriyet Daily News reports that the Pharmacists’ Federation of Employers’ Organization (TEİS) has organized thousands of its member to refuse services for free to Syrian refugees, most of whom cannot pay for prescription medication. The president of the organization, Nurten Saydan, told Hurriyet that the government policy of providing free medication to the refugees has resulted in a large amount of organization members working for no pay since the service was announced.

“Our pharmacists have not gotten payment of the medicine they have provided to Syrian refugees for around 11 months now,” Saydan explained, “They have decided to stop giving drugs to Syrians from now on. [The Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate] AFAD has to accelerate the control of the prescriptions and enable the payments of the delayed expenses.”

The pharmacists were promised 150,000 Turkish lira from the government to fund the free medication, Saydan said. Currently, it is estimated that 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey, and more than 350,000 have settled in Turkey.

In May 2013, the Turkish government announced that “over 300,000 Syrian refugees taking shelter in Turkey will be able to access needed prescription medicines at any pharmacy across the country and the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) will cover the cost.” Turkey has received millions in aid for Syrian refugees internationally, including $85 million from the European Union in December.

The situation for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and other nations that have agreed to take them in appears increasingly dire as refugees flood neighboring areas to avoid the Islamic State’s wrath, non-ISIS jihadist groups like the al-Nusra Front, and the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A report from October revealed that many Syrian refugee women — most widowed on their way out of Syria or the daughters of men killed in the way — prostituted themselves to survive in Turkey. Some women became prostitutes even after escaping to Turkey with their family, since it was the only source of income available to them and their husbands.

The rejection of medical aid for Syrian refugees may raise other concerns: Reports indicate that the Islamic State has been freely using Turkish hospitals to heal jihadists wounded in battle in Syria.

“I am sick of treating wounded ISIS militants,” an anonymous nurse told Turkish authorities in September.

This week, Turkish outlets confirmed that a high-ranking ISIS commander was receiving treatment for injuries at a Turkish hospital, increasing concerns that the Turkish government is not doing enough to weaken the Sunni terrorist group.