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There are over 1.1 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon. In a country of just 4.5 million people, this influx is placing a massive strain on the national healthcare sector. It is also creating increasing tensions between the local population and their new neighbours from Syria.
Lana Khattab from peacebuilding charity International Alert and photographer Nadim Kamel visited healthcare centres across south Lebanon in September 2014 to see the effects first hand. To find out more, visit http://www.international-alert.org/lebanon
“For the past 20 years we Lebanese got used to dealing with emergencies,” says Rajaa, head of a health centre in Bazourieh, south Lebanon, “but we have been in a state of emergency for over two years now. It has lasted too long … We could not believe how many Syrian patients we received [at first]. Our waiting rooms were full. They were standing in the kitchen, on the balcony, everywhere … It’s less chaotic now, but my staff are overworked and we still get around 60–70 patients a day, most of whom are Syrians.”
Khaled*, a Syrian refugee who has been living in Lebanon with his wife and five children for two years, highlights another challenge related to the privatisation of healthcare. “Two weeks ago, my youngest daughter split her lower lip and it needed stitching. I went to a health centre in Tyre at 11pm at night and the first thing they asked me was whether I had $50, otherwise they could not treat her.”
Other health centres have begun separating their patients. “Our Lebanese patients don’t like to sit in a waiting room full of Syrians,” says Manal*, a nurse at Bazourieh health centre. “Because most of our patients are now Syrian, we sit them in the big waiting room and the Lebanese wait in the small waiting room.”
Health workers are increasingly finding themselves working longer hours and facing growing tensions in the work place. Some Lebanese, for example, no longer want to be treated with the same medical equipment over concerns about a lack of hygiene among Syrian refugees.
International Alert has therefore begun training health workers in how to deal with these tensions in a way that promotes more peaceful relations between the Syrian refugees and the local Lebanese communities. The work, which is funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health and UNHCR, is part of International Alert’s project on promoting conflict-sensitive aid.
* This person’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.