Syria refugees bear brunt of Lebanon medical funding shortfalls
BEIRUT - Funding shortfalls and medical care gaps in Lebanon are forcing Syrian refugees to forego treatment, run up huge debts or return to their war-ravaged homeland, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The rights watchdog said the international community bore a large share of the blame because of its "shameful failure" to fully fund UN refugee programmes in Lebanon.
"Hospital treatment and more specialised care for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is woefully insufficient, with the situation exacerbated by a massive shortage of international funding," said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty's head of global issues.
"Syrian refugees in Lebanon are suffering as a direct result of the international community's shameful failure to fully fund the UN relief programme in Lebanon."
In its report, Amnesty said Lebanon's fragmented and expensive health care system makes it difficult for Syrian refugees to secure and afford treatment on their own.
The UN's refugee agency UNHCR provides assistance to some Syrians in need of care but has imposed restrictive criteria and requires refugees share 25 percent of costs because of underfunding, it said.
The New York-based watchdog gave the example of a 12-year-old boy whose trousers were set on fire while he was working at a mechanic shop, leaving him with second and third-degree burns.
Unable to afford private treatment, the burns were left unattended for days, eventually turning septic.
When he was finally hospitalised, with help from the UNHCR, only the cost of treating the infection was covered, even though failure to treat the burns could result in permanent disability.
Eventually, the group said, a charitable organisation found a volunteer doctor who agreed to begin treating the child, but it remains unclear whether he will be able to receive follow-up treatment.
- 'Time to act' -
Amnesty said many refugees already struggling to make ends meet were running up huge debts to pay for medicine or medical treatment.
Others have opted to return to Syria to buy cheaper medicine or seek treatment, despite the risks in doing so.
And some are simply going without treatment, risking death or permanent disability in the process.
Amnesty praised Lebanon for continuing to accept refugees, noting that more than one million Syrians have found refuge in the Mediterranean country of just four million citizens.
But it said the government's refusal to allow the establishment of field hospitals was hampering efforts to expand medical access for refugees and urged Lebanon to develop a national health strategy.
The watchdog called on the international community to urgently increase funding for the UN's Syria crisis response plan, increase support to Lebanon and other regional host nations and increase their own intake of Syrian refugees.
"It's time for the international community to recognise the consequences of its failure to provide adequate assistance to refugees from the conflict in Syria," Gaughran said.
"There is a desperate need for countries to fulfil the humanitarian appeal for Syria and step up efforts to offer resettlement places for the most vulnerable of refugees, including those in dire need of medical treatment."