Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, it is estimated that more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees from Syria have arrived in Lebanon and the small country is struggling to cope with their acute humanitarian and medical needs.
Five years into the conflict, most of the refugees are still largely reliant on humanitarian assistance for their daily survival. No official refugee camps have been established, so families are forced to live in informal settlements such as garages, farms, old schools or unfinished buildings.
Overcrowding and inadequate food, water and shelter have had a negative impact on people’s health, but they are unable to access the medical services they need. MSF is providing free healthcare to refugees, including those whose regular treatment for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma has been interrupted because of the war, and expectant mothers, who have often had no access to specialised care or medical surveillance during their pregnancies.
MSF continues to provide basic and reproductive healthcare, health promotion activities, mental health counselling and treatment for chronic diseases to the vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugees living in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. Teams working at clinics in Baalbek, Majdal Anjar, Aarsal and Hermel carried out a total of 126,000 outpatient consultations and assisted 768 deliveries during the year.
In southern Beirut, MSF works in Shatila camp, a Palestinian refugee settlement dating back to 1949, where more recent Palestinian refugees from Syria and Syrian refugees are also living. The focus here is on unregistered refugees who are not eligible for official assistance, and registered refugees with medical needs falling outside the eligibility criteria of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. MSF’s care includes basic healthcare for children under the age of 15, treatment for chronic diseases, mental health support services and a women’s health centre assisting around 170 deliveries per month. A referral system is in place for patients requiring specialist medical intervention, such as caesarean sections for women with high-risk pregnancies and birth complications.
Northern Lebanon is also currently home to a large number of Syrian refugees. An MSF team is working in the Abu Samra neighbourhood of Tripoli, providing reproductive health services, treatment for acute and chronic diseases, routine vaccinations and counselling.
Other MSF teams work in the districts of Jabal Mohsen and Bab el Tabbaneh in Tripoli, where fighting between local communities has intensified. MSF offers treatment for acute illnesses, reproductive health services and counselling to the local population. In Jabal Mohsen clinic, MSF also supports surgery to stabilise patients before they are transferred to hospital.
In January, MSF distributed urgently needed winter essentials to Syrian refugees in Akkar district in the mountainous northeast of the country, in response to a severe storm and sub-zero temperatures. Around 900 families — 4,700 people — were given stoves, fuel or blankets. Few other organisations work in this area, and the refugees here are very afraid of being sent back to Syria.
From April, MSF worked in the city of El Abdeh, treating acute and chronic diseases and providing ante- and postnatal care.
MSF handed over its long-running mental health programme for the Palestinian population in the Sidon area to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The team shifted its focus to healthcare for Palestinians from Lebanon, newly arrived Palestinian refugees from Syria and Syrians, particularly children under the age of 15. Throughout 2015, MSF supported three health centres, providing treatment for acute and chronic diseases, mental healthcare and reproductive and maternal health services, and also a referral system for patients in need of specialist care.
Mahmoud Meteb Al Ahmad – 55 years old, is a Syrian from Aleppo. He’s receiving treatment for diabetes and hypertension at the MSF clinic in El Abdeh, northern Lebanon.
"I have been living in a tent with my wife and five daughters for three years. This year the winter was very harsh, high winds almost uprooted our tents and heavy rains led to soil erosion … we burnt clothes, plastic, anything to stay warm. We lived off humanitarian aid because even the construction and agricultural work that we used to do during the other seasons became impossible "