Hundreds of thousands of Syrians migrated to Germany during the Syrian civil war, and many are now helping Germany overcome the deadly pandemic.

"This country has given me a chance to develop myself, my chief doctor has taken me by hand and showed me the ropes, I owe a lot to this country, its made a man out of me. But there are always days – dark ones, when I think of my friends and family still in Syria," says 32-year-old Iyas Salman.

Iyas's story isn't much different to that of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who live in Germany. Just around the time of the exodus from Syria to Europe, when nearly two million people walked, drove, sailed and then swam the Mediterranean Sea - Iyas arrived in Germany in 2014 leaving behind family, friends and the streets of Latakia he knew. 

Apart from the typical early struggles of settling in a new country, it was a gruelling six months of learning to speak German and getting his Syrian medical certificates assessed, after which Iyas finally got his license to practice medicine as a general physician.

"But there were days when I didn't think I'd make it through, it was very difficult, I missed my family, my wife, Germany was a new country, the language is very very difficult," he concedes.

Dr Iyas with his team of doctors and nurses on their ICU shift at Lemge Hospital in the town of Detmold, Germany.
Dr Iyas with his team of doctors and nurses on their ICU shift at Lemge Hospital in the town of Detmold, Germany. (TRTWorld)

One man's misery is another man's...

Europe's been suffering a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses over the last 20 years, as ever fewer young people enter the profession. A few years ago, the European Commission estimated that by 2020, Europe would be short of 230,000 doctors.

That's a staggering figure - for many years now, countries such as the UK and France have opened immigration to healthcare professionals from South and Southeast Asia in a bid to ease the burden on their healthcare systems.

Germany's problem is rather severe, there are currently 152,000 vacancies for health professionals. The problem is exacerbated by a burgeoning ageing population spread over a large geographical area – young doctors don't want to go work in a small village with a largely elderly population.

And there aren't that many young doctors in Germany either, only 19 percent of Germany's doctors are below the age of 35, according to one statistic, one in every three physicians is over 55 years old.

This is when Syria's finest come into play, nearly 4,500 of them, Iyas's friends and colleagues who work in Germany's healthcare system.

The dark days are over and Iyas is now a German doctor of Syrian heritage, working on the Covid-19 frontline in a small town, in one of Germany's hardest-hit states, North Rhine Westphalia.

It wasn't long ago when he roamed the streets of Latakia, then a recently graduated doctor when the civil war began in Syria. He and his friends started to look for work across Europe. Germany seemed a good prospect, a shortage of doctors and a decent living wage were enough motivation.

As soon as he received his license, Iyas decided to bring his wife to Germany, and her support was instrumental he says.

"It's so nice to come back home to Adad, her words really calm me down after a difficult shift at the hospital, I feel so blessed that she is part of my life here," says Iyas.

Dr. Iyas salman with his wife, Adad Affach.
Dr. Iyas salman with his wife, Adad Affach. (TRTWorld)

It was on a brief visit to Syria in 2016 when Iyas first met his wife, at a dinner hosted by friends, he didn't take much notice of her until they all went out for after-dinner coffee when a cyclist ran into Ada and that's when Iyas had a chance to spring into doctor mode and give her first aid.

"There was a moment then, when she was worried, I looked into her eyes and said, don't worry nothing will happen to you while I'm here, and that was it," he fondly recalls.

As they say the rest is history.

Learning the ropes

Ilyas received a warm welcome at the hospital thanks to the open arms of his medical team. 

"I learnt so much here, Germany has an amazing diagnostic system, they don't take anything for granted, the correct diagnosis is very important here," he says.

Ilyas says his chief was always willing to include him in important decisions and processes.

"Every time my chief came across an interesting case, he'd make sure I was aware of it, he'd bring me and show it to me, it was almost like a father showing his child, look at this, study this, this is how we will treat this person," he adds.

Dr Iyas Salman at the Lemge Hospital in Detmold, Germany.
Dr Iyas Salman at the Lemge Hospital in Detmold, Germany. (TRTWorld)

"There were several occasions when my head doctor would run me past an interesting case, he would always tell me to focus on the correct diagnostics, he encouraged me to use all the technology and diagnostic tools available in Germany, and as you know, Germany is a global leader in these diagnostic technologies," he says.

The years of learning and practice have come to fruition, Iyas now leads teams of doctors and nurses on the coronavirus frontline, often putting in several-hour long shifts in the ICU.

He's brimming with excitement when he talks about this current work, it's almost a little difficult to get him to focus on life outside of work. 


Iyas's joy in taking on the coronavirus is evident and it comes with strong undertones of loyalty and sincerity to his new home and his new people.

"There is so much happiness and excitement every time we successfully treat a person suffering from the coronavirus, every time someone leaves the hospital alive it's like we won a battle," he says.

Germany has the coronavirus 'under control' according to the German health minister - the country's large hospital network with 34 ICU beds per population of a 100,000 is the highest in Europe alongside a comprehensive biotech industry.

An early lock-down and strict social distancing measures saved thousands of lives.

Looking at most European capitals, Berlin escaped the worst, with fewer than a 130 deaths (as of 28th April) – high levels of trust in government and fastidious obedience of the law saw Berliners follow government regulations and a strict lockdown. 

Police and other government authorities ensured people followed social distancing guidelines.

But Germany's vast pharmaceutical and biotech sector also chipped in, with protective clothing, testing kits and ventilators all manufactured locally, the country didn't have to rely on an extremely competitive global market place. 

Going back to January, when the virus was ravaging China, biomedical researchers and microbiologists working at Berlin's Charite Hospital had already designed a viable test for the disease.

By mid-March, bio-tech companies across Germany had already produced four million tests.

Germany is also home to, Roche, one of the world's largest diagnostic companies, which is currently working on a vaccine for the coronavirus, which it says will be ready by the end of 2021.

While, Iyas has been putting in heavy hours in the ICU, he has the full might of the German healthcare system, its diagnostics, and its biomedical research sector to back him up.

Among sickness and death, humanity is restored when Iyas points to a list of neatly arranged cards on his mantel, from former patients. 

Often his patients send him letters and gifts after recovering.

"Many ask me, oh where are you from? You speak German so well, thank you for coming to Germany and thank you for helping me," he wistfully reminisces.