TYRE, Lebanon: Capt. Song asks her patient, a Syrian refugee, to sit as she measures his blood pressure in a medical clinic in the southern village of Tayr Dibba’s municipal building.
Song, a nurse, is one of many members of South Korea’s peacekeeping contingent in Lebanon – which is stationed in five Tyre villages – offering medical, social and recreational services to Syrian refugees in the surrounding area.
“I sympathize a lot with the Syrian patients who come here in droves and suffer many problems like colds and high temperatures,” says the nurse. “They need care.”
Each of the dozens of patients who are waiting in the reception hall of the building holds a number, ensuring that the examination process runs smoothly. When Capt. Song receives patients, she speaks with them in broken Arabic.
“The first thing I do with children is measure their body temperature and their weight and I write it down in their records. Whereas, for older patients I measure the sugar levels in their blood,” she says.
Every patient is able to pick up prescribed medicine after the examination. According to Najma, a local translator, the medicines are made in South Korea and their instructions are translated into Arabic.
The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon’s mandate is not limited to observing the implementation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israeli war with Lebanon.
Nor do the peacekeepers merely preserve peace along borders.
These days, some members of the Korean contingent of UNIFIL devote much of their time to health and humanitarian services. Five days a week, Korean doctors and nurses tour all the villages under the body’s mandate, south of the Litani River, to offer medical treatment to residents and newly arrived refugees alike.
Since Korea’s UNIFIL contingent began providing checkups over five and half years ago, the number of medical examinations they perform has reached 50,000 patients and increases every day.
“This figure is important because it constitutes the number of citizens residing within the jurisdiction of the South Korean contingent, and since November we have examined 3,000 more patients due to the influx of Syrian refugees,” says the Korean contingent’s public information officer, Maj. Hyung Jun-Gang.
“We are always ready to help and our arms are wide open to everyone. South Korea is always ready to extend a helping hand and offer medical support,” Hyung says, adding that the increase in the number of patients has not disrupted scheduled working hours because of the efficiency of the medical teams.
The contingent is also making contacts with non-governmental organizations in South Korea to provide aid for Syrian refugees.
“We don’t know yet the kind of aid that can be provided. We are only mediators,” Hyung explains.
Maj. Zeid Moghniyeh of the Lebanese Army says medical services, especially those offered by UNIFIL’s Koreans, have eased the hardships of incoming refugees.
The Korean contingent’s actions in south Lebanon serve to repay an old debt, explains the public information officer, as South Korea has endured wars in the past and received international aid to cope with the debilitating results of civil unrest.
Capt. Lee Kyo-Won, another Korean peacekeeper, takes extra time to examine a Syrian baby, Nada, whose laryngitis threatens to spread to her lungs and tells her parents, with the help of an interpreter, that they must administer her medicine strictly on schedule.
Dr. Lee says Syrian refugees continue to suffer illnesses caused by poor hygiene and malnutrition.
“[These are] two things they can’t control, because they suffer colds and they have wounds they can’t clean,” Dr. Lee says.
He often provides preventive advice to patients, urging them to be as hygienic as possible to avoid infections.
Among the myriad patients Dr. Lee sees every day, one woman in particular sticks in his mind.
Dora, a Syrian refugee, nearly lost her life after wounds from a previous Caesarian section became infected.
“But we tended to her hour by hour, and she was restored to good health and is now in good shape,” he says. “I will always remember her.”