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Syrian refugee develops technology to identify gender of war victims

Rawad Qaq hopes his sex calculator will enable forensic scientists to use skulls to predict the gender of deceased people.

Rawad Qaq undertook a perilous 22-day journey to flee war-torn Syria four years ago (University of Dundee/PA)
Rawad Qaq undertook a perilous 22-day journey to flee war-torn Syria four years ago (University of Dundee/PA)

By Conor Riordan, PA Scotland

A refugee who fled war and built a new life in Scotland has developed technology to help identify the gender of war victims who have few remaining features.

Rawad Qaq was 23 when he had to flee Syria in 2015 because of the destruction that has ravaged his home country.

Leaving behind family who he might not see again, he undertook a perilous 22-day journey to Europe by boat.

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Destroyed buildings in Raqqa, Syria (Amnesty International/PA)

“When I fled Syria, I was completely alone without any real-life experience,” he told the PA news agency.

“War doesn’t care because you are a student. It tears apart families and lives.

“As things got worse in my country, like so many hundreds of thousands of people, I was forced to flee to safety to Lebanon at first.”

He arrived in Germany and went on to gain a scholarship to study a PhD in forensic dentistry at the University of Dundee, having gained his Masters there.

The 28-year-old then pledged to use the opportunity to develop facial reconstruction technology that can help identify victims of the war.

The UN estimates more than 100,000 people have been detained, abducted, disappeared or went missing, largely, but not only, by the Syrian government.

Mr Qaq has now revealed his free-to-use sex calculator, which allows forensic scientists to use skulls to predict the gender of the deceased with limited resources.

He plans to later introduce further methods of identification in his home country and neighbouring states, such as Iraq and Yemen, to help identify the victims.

Mr Qaq said: “The skull is the second-best indicator of sex from a human skeleton after the pelvis.

“Often in extreme circumstances, the only remains that forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and odontologists might have to hand is a skull and so I wanted to create a solution to problems they could face in the field.

“The sex calculator allows experts such as these to predict the sex of skulls with over 80% accuracy.”

To develop the calculator, he tested 22 common measurements on 135 radiographs of skulls.

Statistical analysis proved only four measurements were needed to “accurately” distinguish between a male and female.

Mr Qaq’s team then applied the formula to 15 new samples and successfully predicted the sex of 13 skulls, representing about 86% accuracy.

It is believed the technology could assist in the introduction of forensic science into war-torn and developing countries that face challenges in identification.

This could be due to the lack of expertise and database health systems, such as in his home country.

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Rawad Qaq now teaches other students at the university (University of Dundee/PA)

His academic work has been heavily influenced by his experiences of conflict in Syria.

This includes the study of mass graves, identification of people by their teeth, health records and data problems.

Mr Qaq added: “Syria is rotting, it is a death trap for so many innocent people.

“I couldn’t help during the war before but now because of studying in Scotland, I will be able to identify the victims of war, not only in Syria but in other countries also ravaged by war like Iraq or Yemen.”

More than 570, 000 people have been killed since the outbreak of war eight years ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The UN estimates there were up to 6.32 million refugees in March 2019 as a result of the turmoil.

PA

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