American physician takes vacation to treat Syrian refugees

GAITHERSBURG, Md. -- On the heels of the Paris attacks, debate rages over how to respond to the thousands of people fleeing across borders to escape violent conflict in places like Syria. But after seeing news reports of desperate refugees sailing to Europe in search of relief, American physician Meena Hasan felt compelled to help.

More than half of U.S. governors reject Syrian refugees

Just months after beginning a new job with Kaiser Permanente in Gaithersburg, Maryland, north of Washington, Hasan recently spent a week of her vacation volunteering with Salaam Cultural Museum, treating people arriving in Lesbos, Greece.

"I felt like I needed to help," Hasan said. "I felt like I needed to make a difference and do my part."

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A sign welcoming Syrian refugees is placed at the entrance to the office of the Arizona governor during a rally at the Arizona Capitol Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined a growing number of governors calling for an immediate halt to the placement of any new refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris. The U.S. State Department says Arizona has received 153 Syrian refugees so far this year. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) AP

Hasan says she provided a range of care, from treating colds and giving out medications for diabetes or high blood pressure to performing CPR on people injured in boat accidents.

Despite the migrants' harrowing journeys, Hasan said she noticed their resilience and gratitude. That's made it tougher for her to hear negative comments about refugees in the media since her return to the United States.

"It is so sad to hear the rhetoric that I'm hearing now in the media and amongst Americans," Hasan said. "I strongly believe that if they had the opportunity to interact with just one (refugee), their attitude would change."

Six days after the Paris attacks, Republicans won veto-proof House approval of legislation blocking Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the U.S. It followed days of political chatter, as more than half the nation's governors said they would oppose refugees from Syria resettling in their states.

Not all Syrian-Americans are entirely welcoming; in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is home to America's third largest Syrian population, at least one Syrian business owner refused to donate food to refugees who recently arrived in the city.

Another business owner, Aziz Wehbey, an Allentown auto dealer and president of the American Amarian Syrian Charity Society said "We need to know who we are welcoming in our society."

Still, Hasan urged Americans to look past the divisive comments and see the humanity she sees in the people she treated.

"It's very easy to get caught in the numbers that we hear on the news, but really just try to understand that each number is a person, just like you and me."