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Syrian refugees face unbearable choices in Lebanon

MSF has been present in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate, in the northeast of the country, since 2010. For over a decade, we have been providing free-of-charge medical services including paediatrics, sexual and reproductive healthcare, treatment for non-communicable diseases, vaccinations against preventable diseases, and mental health support for refugees and the local community alike. Currently, MSF teams run a clinic in Arsal and another in Hermel, as well as supporting access to advanced healthcare through partner hospitals. Yet, even amidst this beacon of assistance, missed medical appointments soar as fear tightens its grip on the refugee community.

Two tents down from Amer’s shelter lives Umm Omar*, who delivered her baby at home less than a month ago. Umm Omar’s memory of the night her water broke unexpectedly is hazy, but she recalls clearly how the community’s fear of crossing army checkpoints kept her confined to the tent’s dirt floor, battling the pains of labour without anaesthesia.

“I was screaming in the dead of night, and no one could take me to a clinic,” says Umm Omar as she swaddles her newborn. “They called for a fellow refugee here whose mother was a midwife. She thankfully delivered my baby by memory of the practice. But I still can’t leave the camp to get him a birth certificate.”

As Lebanon strains under its fifth year of severe economic crisis, Syrian refugees face more intolerance in the country. The economic hardship, compounded by fear of movement, has forced refugees into an impossible choice between their safety and their health. Even lower on the list of priorities for refugees is their mental health.

“We live in constant anxiety and terror. I can’t even sleep due to these security campaigns and my fear for my children,” says Umm Khattab, who has been suffering breakdowns since her son was deported in late 2023. “Our children’s hearts race with fear and anxiety during these campaigns, and we only hear the phrase, ‘Here they come!’ I try to comfort my children, but inside I am more afraid than they are.”

“After several years of displacement, some Syrian refugees have developed further psychological symptoms,” says Amani Al Mashaqba, MSF’s mental health activity manager in Baalbek-Hermel. “High psychological distress is present in the refugees because of repeated crisis events. Changes in behaviour related to exposure to traumatic events have been reported by our mental health patients in both adults and children. People are tired. They feel insecure, depressed, and down.”

The Syrian war, which began in 2011, led to widespread destruction and violence, displacing millions of people to neighbouring countries. The ongoing instability has left Syria unsafe, making it challenging for many to return to their homeland. Vulnerable communities’ access to healthcare in northern Lebanon should not be hindered by fear or intimidation. Patients should not have to choose between their safety and seeking medical help.

Fonte original msf.org

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