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Department of Sociology


As countries around the world wrestle with the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Employing Essential Workers tells the story of three healthcare workers displaced from Syria, and their aspirations for work in Turkey, Germany and the UK.

The short film was produced by Research for Health in Conflict (R4HC), a research project that advocates for the integration and employment of displaced Syrian healthcare workers into labour markets in the Middle East, Europe and the United Kingdom.

Dr Adam Coutts, Researcher Co-Investigator for R4HC, argues that “employing displaced Syrian healthcare workers is a ‘win-win’ for both host communities and refugees in terms helping to strengthen the NHS and fill service gaps exposed by the Covid-19 crisis.”

R4HC research shows that for healthcare workers, Syria has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice.1 After nine years of conflict, the health of Syrians, their health system and its workforce have been destroyed. The rapid outbreak of COVID-19 across Syria is set to add further misery.2 Thousands of qualified health professionals in Syria have left the country since 2011 due to military attacks on clinics and hospitals. These essential workers now find themselves excluded from formal job opportunities and sliding into poverty in host communities in the Middle East and Europe.3

Dr Coutts describes it as “great waste” not to integrate these healthcare workers, particularly in the UK given the increasing demands placed on healthcare systems by the coronavirus pandemic. “It really is in our interest to support these Syrian doctors and other refugee doctors to enter the workforce” adds Dr Aula Abbara of the Syria Public Health Network. “In the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis we are in desperate need of their knowledge and skills”.

Dr Abbara also describes the many logistical barriers to integration which Syrian healthcare workers need to overcome. She notes that “much more investment and policy attention needs to be given for services like the Lincolnshire Refugee Doctors Programme who provide an essential service which supports refugee doctors and speeds up the process of recertification and recruitment.”

About R4HC

The Research for Health in Conflict (R4HC) project is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (UK Research Innovation), and aims to build a broad network of partners from academia, policy, politics and those working on-the-ground to address the policy and political challenges to the integration and employment of displaced health workers.


  1. Fouad FM, Sparrow A, Tarakji A, Alameddine M, El-Jardali F, Coutts AP, Arnaout NE, Karroum NB, Jawad M, Roborgh S, Abbara A, Alhalabi F, AlMasri I, Jabbour S (2017). Health workers and the weaponisation of health care in Syria: a preliminary inquiry for The Lancet–American University of Beirut Commission on Syria. The Lancet 390 (10111): 2516-2526,
  2. Policy Report: COVID-19 situation in Syria and possible policy responses (April 2020). Syria Public Health Network. [Download]
  3. Ismail SA, Coutts AP, Rayes D, Roborgh S, Abbara A, Orcutt M, Fouad FM, Honein G, El Arnaout N, Noubani A , Nimer H, and Rutherford S (2018) Refugees, healthcare and crises: informal Syrian health workers in Lebanon. IIED, London. [Download]

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