How Syrian refugees make choices regarding their health in Lebanon

Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 2013 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 2013 Pekka Tiainen, EU/ECHO on Flickr

09 July 2024

The anti-refugee sentiment in Lebanon forces Syrian refugees to live without having access to medical care.

Since 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a brutal conflict pitting the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, against anti-government rebel groups. The conflict initially began as a protest against Assad's authoritarian regime, leading to a mass exodus of Syrians seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Lebanon. The Lebanese government estimates that there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Upon arrival, however, they are met with hostility and forced to live in poor conditions.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been present in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate in northeastern Lebanon since 2010, providing various types of free medical services. According to MSF,  the living conditions of Syrian refugees are appalling. Many live in constant fear and terror, often wishing for death as a release from their suffering. In towns like Hermel, Qaa, and Arsal, makeshift camps of tarps and scraps are the norm, offering little protection from the elements and Lebanon's growing anti-refugee sentiment. Refugees are often stopped at security checkpoints and face local tensions.

These conditions have worsened with recent government-imposed changes, such as the 6 p.m. curfew for refugees. In fact, since April 2024, Lebanon has increased the number of raids and tightened security measures to address the issue of unregistered individuals. This has led many refugees in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate to avoid seeking medical care at MSF clinics for fear of not being able to return home. This is because undocumented Syrians risk deportation at checkpoints, often without the opportunity to contact their families. The situation is exacerbated by financial difficulties. Most refugees can no longer afford motorcycles, which were once the safest means of transportation to get to food and medical appointments. Instead, they must rent motorcycles or tuk-tuks, a costly option that many cannot afford.

One refugee interviewed by MSF highlighted the difficulty of accessing necessary medical care due to recent government measures. Another described the poor conditions in which Syrian women give birth, often in unhygienic conditions and without professional medical assistance. The community's fear of crossing army checkpoints means that many women rely on refugee midwives, if help is available at all. Years of living in constant fear have taken a heavy psychological toll on many Syrian refugees, as Amani Al Mashaqba, MSF's mental health manager in Baalbek-Hermel, notes. The compounded stress and trauma have led to an increase in mental health problems among the refugee population, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive support and intervention.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is involved in providing essential support to Syrian refugees in Lebanon through initiatives such as the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan. This plan was developed to address the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon by providing protection and assistance, such as cash grants to help refugees meet their basic needs. However, the economic crisis in Lebanon has exacerbated the reality of Syrian refugees. It seems that the efforts are not enough.


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by Giorgia Rossini

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