Syrian refugees in Lebanon are finding it increasingly difficult to access vital medical services due to reports of forced deportation and restrictions on their movement. People have told Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams and our partners the situation is being exacerbated by discriminatory rhetoric against refugees in public discourse, creating an environment of fear.
The atmosphere of intimidation has left many refugees afraid to leave the safety of their homes, even to seek essential medical care. The situation is particularly severe in the underserved area of Arsal, an isolated town in north Lebanon near the Syrian border, where MSF teams have worked for more than 10 years.
“Everyone is stressed and staying at home, paralyzed by fear,” says Farhat, 75, a Syrian refugee who has been receiving treatment for diabetes at MSF’s clinic in Arsal for nine years. “No one has the courage to venture outside, even for basic necessities.”
“No one has the courage to venture outside.”
Farhat is fearful of being arrested by authorities and deported from Lebanon. “I am afraid they would take me, humiliate me and then forcefully expel me from the country,” he says, adding that many others share his concerns.
This spring, MSF teams noticed increasing numbers of missed appointments at their clinics, reportedly due to patients’ fears of deportation as they navigate checkpoints to reach health facilities.
CARS AND MOTORCYCLES CONFISCATED
MSF teams also reported the climate of fear is impacting their ability to make vital medical referrals to hospitals.
“We had a patient who, despite requiring critical medical care, refused to be referred to a hospital out of sheer terror of deportation, knowing he is unregistered,” says Dr. Marcelo Fernandez, MSF country director in Lebanon.
The recent strict enforcement of policies and restrictions regarding refugees in Lebanon has resulted in many Syrians having their cars and motorcycles confiscated. Often, these vehicles were their only affordable means of transport after the economic crisis caused the cost of taxis and public transport to skyrocket.
Mahmoud, 56, is receiving treatment for diabetes at MSF’s clinic in Arsal, five kilometres from his home. He is one of many patients who now struggle to come to the clinic for check-ups and to collect their medication.
“I used to rely on my motorcycle to reach the clinic,” he says, “But the recent regulations prohibit us from using motorcycles, so now I have to make the journey on foot.”
Many of Arsal’s residents experience poverty, while services and infrastructure in the area are limited. Both Lebanese residents and refugees face significant challenges in accessing essential services, both within and beyond the town.
People should have access to timely healthcare regardless of their status.
“The confiscation of vehicles has left many [people in vulnerable circumstances] without a reliable means of transport,” says Dr. Fernandez. “This measure has exacerbated the challenges faced by individuals who already have limited resources and freedom of movement, further hindering their access to essential medical care. This situation is untenable.
“No actions should come at the expense of people’s health. All marginalized people should have access to timely healthcare, regardless of their background or status.”
MSF IN LEBANON
MSF first began work in Lebanon in 1976 and has worked in the country without interruption since 2008.
MSF teams currently work in seven locations across the country, providing free medical care for communities with no or limited care options, including Lebanese citizens, refugees and migrant workers. MSF’s services include mental healthcare, sexual and reproductive services, pediatric care, vaccinations and treatment for non-communicable diseases including diabetes. With more than 700 staff in Lebanon, MSF teams provide around 150,000 medical consultations every year.
*Names of patients have been changed to protect their identity.