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Features / March 17, 2016

BDA offers ‘practical’ help to refugee crisis

by Guy Hiscott

Michael Watson looks at the response to refugees in the dental profession in Northern Ireland

Back in December, 10 refugee families were flown from Beirut to Belfast as part of the UK’s ‘vulnerable persons resettlement scheme’.

Early this year we also learned of a dentist, named Mahfouz, who had been living in Lisburn for the past two years. He was a dentist in Aleppo in Syria for 23 years. But he, his wife and four children were forced to leave as a result of the conflict.

Now a refugee living with his family in Northern Ireland, his qualifications aren’t recognised by the General Dental Council (GDC) and he is currently working in a factory making window blinds. When they arrived, none of the family spoke any English but they have worked hard to learn it and he now wants to use his skills in Northern Ireland to support his family as well as contribute to society.

Finding their feet

To work as a dentist in the UK, refugee dentists, who qualified outside the European Economic Area (EEA), must pass the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) and the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE). Following successful registration with the GDC in the UK, dentists are also required to undertake a period of competency training to familiarise themselves with the UK system.

Mahfouz has said that these examinations will cost him £6,000 – a sum he does not have. To help him complete his exams, a Northern Ireland man has decided to help him out by crowdfunding. However, just two days before the appeal closed, only 25% of the required sum had been raised.

The family was featured on a BBC report on the day that the Syrian families arrived in Belfast from refugee camps in Beirut. He told the BBC: ‘I found a job here in a factory close to my house for eight hours a day for five days a week. I have been working for 22 years as a dentist and I don’t want to lose my skills.’

The man behind the campaign is Mark Feeney, a director in the Tech Skills Partnership NI from Lisburn. He said that Mahfouz would be able to start practising as a dentist in Northern Ireland once he has completed the examinations in May, as there are currently many openings for NHS dentists.

Aid from the BDA

Following the news that refugees will be arriving in Northern Ireland as part of the UK’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme, the British Dental Association (BDA) in Northern Ireland is highlighting its year’s free membership for refugee dentists who have successfully had their asylum claim processed.

The BDA says on its website: ‘For dentists, or indeed anyone who needs to depart their country of origin as a result of strife, this can be a very difficult period. Not only do you leave behind your country, but you also leave behind the right to work in your chosen profession.’

Refugee dentists in Northern Ireland are eligible for one year’s free membership of the BDA as an aide to registration. They can also access BDA Northern Ireland branch activities to attend events, keep their skills up-to-date and network with local dentists.

Every day we hear distressing stories and see images of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and other war zones. The profession in Northern Ireland is responding in a practical way to fellow professionals who come to this country.