The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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May 22, 2014

The Daily Star - Denied vital health care, displaced ‘risk debt and death’, May 22, 2014

Elise Knutsen

Underfunded medical institutions in Lebanon are incapable or unwilling to treat many Syrian refugees, exposing already vulnerable populations to the risk of financial ruin, disability and death, according to a report published by Amnesty International Wednesday.

“Limitations on health care available to refugees in Lebanon have resulted in Syrian refugees with serious medical concerns being left untreated,” according to the report “Agonizing Choices: Syrian refugees in need of Health Care in Lebanon.”

Humanitarian agencies, notably the UNHCR, have been forced to dramatically cut medical subsidies to refugees. Previously, the UNHCR covered 85 percent of treatment costs for refugees needing secondary and tertiary care. Now, however, it covers only 75 percent, and refugees must pay the remaining 25 percent.

“Families are taking on debt to pay for private care or – in desperation – attempting the very dangerous journey back to Syria to seek treatment there,” the report says.

It also states that “in accordance with UNHCR guidelines, subsidized care is restricted to conditions deemed to be immediate, life-threatening emergencies.”

As a result, untold numbers of Syrians suffering from non-life threatening wounds, or chronic diseases like kidney failure and cancer are either forgoing treatment or incurring immense debts at Lebanese medical institutions.

“Some hospitals resorted to unorthodox methods of collecting payment, such as detaining patients or bodies of the deceased, requesting upfront payment and confiscating documents,” the report says.

In a tented settlement near Barr Elias in the Bekaa Valley, refugees said local hospitals were unfairly exploiting medical emergencies to milk money from impoverished refugees.

“They’re running like businesses,” affirmed Abu Ahmad, who lives in the camp with his family.

When Abu Ahmad’s young cousin was cut by a piece of glass lying on the ground, he was rushed to Chtaura Hospital. As registered refugees, the family expected that UNHCR would cover most of the cost of the child’s treatment, as they had been promised. However, the authorities at the hospital said otherwise.

“They told us that they had to call the United Nations to see if they would cover the boy’s treatment, and that it would take five hours,” Abu Ahmad recalled. “Or they told us we could pay $350 and he would be treated immediately.”

Aware of how deep the wound was, the family decided not to wait.

“We paid the money,” Abu Ahmad sighed.

Moreover, a maze of bureaucratic hurdles often prevents refugees from receiving the care they need.

Registered refugees can only receive subsidized healthcare at hospitals contracted by the UNHCR and are forced to pay out of their own pocket – even in emergency situations – if they seek treatment at non-contracted hospitals.

These administrative distinctions have not been made adequately clear to refugees, who expressed “frustration and confusion about the lack of information provided to them,” according to the report.

Despite the U.N.’s appeal for funds to help Lebanon cope with the influx of more than a million Syrians, there is little reason to hope that medical care for the refugees will improve.

“The number of refugees receiving assistance will be further reduced in 2014 due to funding shortfalls,” the report says.

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