Why I moved to Aleppo. Why I stayed

Salem Abul Naser, a dentist, 65 years old:

"I am from Tartus, a city on the coast that is now known as being pro-Assad. As soon as the Syrian uprising started I joined the people’s movement along with millions of others. I did everything a man my age could do: I joined the protests and helped the families that were displaced as the Regime began to crackdown.

Why would a doctor from Tartus do this? I believe in my people. I believe in freedom and dignity. For these beliefs I was arrested three times. After my third release in 2013 I decided I had to move to somewhere beyond the grasps of the Assad security forces so I headed to Aleppo, the heart of the uprising. I knew that they had such limited medical expertise that my skills would be put to good use.

I found a home in the Bustan Al Qaser neighbourhood of Aleppo and worked at the clinic there. Aleppo became my second home. I was welcomed by the locals, treated like one of them. My fellow doctors and other community members made sure it felt like home. I believe Syria is one land and Aleppo is like Tartus to me. Once there, I worked day and night. On some days I would treat up to 40 patients in the free clinic.

Later I was arrested by one of the armed groups in Aleppo. However, I had such support from the community that they pressured for my release. After that I knew that I could never leave Aleppo. They had saved me and I had to stay and save their lives. As I stayed the conditions got worse day by day. I am not a young man and I have medical issues myself but I took strength from people's will of survival and their struggle for freedom. If they could survive so could I.

Leaving my home in Tartus was a difficult experience. I am now witnessing the forced evacuation of thousands of  civilians. It brings back memories of what I went through three years ago but this is so much worse as people don't have control over their fate.

Watching the people in Aleppo that I have built relationships with, that are my friends that have survived a siege, barrel bombs, and the horrors of the war be forced to leave their homes is the hardest thing. We have bonded but I know I will never see them again. I am losing friends, neighbours, and even patients.

If people are leaving I will leave with them. I have no idea where we will go. But wherever we go I will keep trying to treat patients, as long as my health allows I will keep saving lives. My motto in life is 'wherever I am need I will be.'"