International Alert is working with UN agencies in Lebanon to help reduce tensions between the local population and Syrian refugees over healthcare provision.
Healthcare is one of the sectors most affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Multiple aid agencies are providing humanitarian relief and health services to the over 1 million displaced Syrians living in Lebanon and there is a widespread perception among the Lebanese population that the refugees are benefiting disproportionately from the aid.
"Sometimes Lebanese patients come, see lots of people waiting and leave," says Huda, a head nurse in the Social Association Chhime, an NGO-run health centre in the village of Chhime, 50 kilometres south of the capital Beirut. "Many stopped coming altogether." The local population is increasingly turning to specialised doctors for support, to avoid the long waiting times. But specialised care is largely private and such choices come with a price tag. This is leading to tensions between the local population and refugees.
Alert has therefore begun work on a UNHCR-led project with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ministry of Public Health of Lebanon, and International Relief and Development (IRD) to help reduce these tensions. The project will enhance the capacity of the Ministry of Public Health to detect and prevent the spread of diseases in the wake of the heightened risks related to the increased population. It will also provide medication, equipment, vaccines and staff training to healthcare clinics, which now cater for both Lebanese patients and displaced Syrians. As the only NGO partner, Alert is responsible for helping the clinics and NGOs to be more ‘conflict-sensitive’ in how they deliver aid and services, so as not to aggravate tensions.
The project was launched on 9 July in the presence of Lebanon’s Minister of Public Health, the UNHCR Representative in Lebanon and the European Union Ambassador to Lebanon. Speaking at the event, UNHCR Representative Ninette Kelley said: “The Syrian crisis has been staggering and we try to ensure that services are provided through Lebanese institutions and that the humanitarian assistance not only serves the refugees but the local communities too.”
"Humanitarian and development aid are crucial in dealing with humanitarian crises, but if not handled well, they can also cause new or aggravate existing tensions between and within communities," says Victoria Stamadianou, Alert’s Country Manager in Lebanon. "We have the challenging role to work with the humanitarian and health sectors to ensure that healthcare provision and improvements take into consideration the sensitivities and tensions between Lebanese and Syrian communities in vulnerable areas of the country."
This project is funded by the European Union’s Instrument for Stability and marks the first institutional collaboration of the EU with Lebanon’s Ministry of Health.
Photo © Nadim Kamel/International Alert