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I know very well what UNRWA does and have reaped the fruits of its efforts. Thanks to it I am here to say these words.
— Dr. Basel Yanes

Dr. Basel Yanes was born in Beit Dajan, a village outside of Yaffa, Palestine, in 1947. In 1948, his family, like over 750,000 Palestinians, were forced to flee their home and become refugees. Displaced, his family left for Syria, and Dr. Yanes grew up in Damascus, where, as a newborn he joined other refugees who had lost everything upon leaving Palestine.

Syria was markedly different in his youth -- unimaginable to most given the destruction and horrors that have grasped the country since the start of the civil war in 2011. He recalls Damascus wistfully, recalling it was a "quaint cultural city with good universities having a drastically smaller population of around 500,000." His father was able to get a job within two years at UNRWA, and ultimately rose through the ranks to become the Director of the Southern District in Syria.

While his family did not live in the refugee camps, he had many friends and family that did in Syria. He clearly recalls a center run by UNRWA that distributed lunches to Palestine refugees and remembers as a child standing in line eager for daily rations.

 Young Dr. Yanes, alongside his family in Damascus, Syria

Young Dr. Yanes, alongside his family in Damascus, Syria

With a deep sigh, Dr. Yanes says, “UNRWA helped us survive. My father’s job helped us survive.”

Soon after his father was employed by UNRWA, he was bringing home an income that covered their family’s basic necessities. Upon finishing high school at the free public school, Dr. Yanes (then, just Basel) applied and received an UNRWA scholarship to attend university and medical school.

“If I didn’t have the UNRWA scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school at the University of Damascus and be where I am today,” he confidently states.

After medical school, Dr. Yanes went to the US to complete residency at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, and then went on to do a fellowship in hematology and oncology at Ohio State University Hospital. He completed his fellowship in 1976 and has called Dayton, Ohio home since then.

Dr. Yanes is a proud Palestinian-American and an asset and leader to his community:

For nearly 50 years I have been a proud, loyal, and committed American citizen. As a cancer specialist I dedicate my life to my community and patients.
— Dr. Yanes

This is exemplified by his impressive contributions to the medical field and his Ohio community. He has and continues to work in private practice and is president of the DBA Dayton Blood and Cancer Center in Dayton. In the past, he served as the President of the Medical Oncology Hematology Associates, and today he imparts his wisdom and knowledge to others by teaching as a Clinical Professor at Wright State University.

When asked about his identity, especially in a time that politics, identity, and immigration are on the forefront of the public mind, he continues: “I feel fortunate to be able to straddle two worlds by growing up in the Middle East and spending much of my life in this country [America], I had the opportunity to have both cultures shape the man I am today.”

 Dr. Yanes with his family in August, 2016 on his 70th birthday

Dr. Yanes with his family in August, 2016 on his 70th birthday

While much of Dr. Yanes’s extended family is dispersed around the world, following the start of the war in Syria, stateside, he is the proud father of three children and grandfather to one girl, all of whom live in various cities in the US.

As a father and grandfather, he speaks with concern about Palestine refugee youth and states with a heavy heart:

I look at the Palestinian children, forgotten under unbearable conditions. They bear hunger, disease, oppression, and despair. The hand extended to them by organizations like UNRWA soothes their wounds and gives them hope. It rekindles their belief in humanity. I look at them and hope they will have the opportunities I had. One day, I know they will grow up and serve to create greater peace and humanity. My message to the US government? Do not let politics kill their hopes and shatter their dreams.