Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

12 March 2014

From the field: Syrian refugees in Lebanon risk their lives for medical treatment

From the field: Syrian refugees in Lebanon risk their lives for medical treatment
A growing number of Syrians living in refugee camps in Lebanon are having to risk their lives to seek medical care.

A growing number of Syrians living in refugee camps in Lebanon are having to risk their lives to seek medical care.

© Amnesty International

Malnutrition is a new, silent threat among refugees in Lebanon, linked to poor hygiene, unsafe drinking water, diseases, lack of immunization, and improper feeding practices of young children.

This is the first in a new series of dispatches about Amnesty International’s work on the ground, researching human rights crises around the world. For the latest updates on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, follow @CharCamille and @KDhala on Twitter. 


Syria’s enormous refugee crisis has been consistently described as the worst humanitarian crisis in a generation.

A recent announcement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees gives a sense of the scale of the suffering – as of late February, more than 2.5 million people had fled across Syria’s borders to escape the conflict. This is more than a hundred-fold increase on the number of refugees two years ago. 

Half of those refugees are children. 

At the time of the UN announcement, researchers Charlotte Phillips and Khairunissa Dhala from Amnesty International’s Refugee and Migrants Rights team were visiting areas which host Syrian refugees including informal settlements in Lebanon. This country of 4.3 million people that shares a long land border with Syria has received almost 1 million refugees since the uprising began. An additional 50,000 are registered every month. 

Strain on resources

The total number of Syrian refugees in the country is expected to reach 1.5 million by the end of the year, putting immense additional strain on resources that are already tight.

To give just one example of how the crisis is stretching capacity in Lebanon, in Rafik Hariri hospital in Beirut, the health system is finding it difficult to keep up with the influx. More than half of the babies delivered there last year were to Syrian parents.

Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp – set up for Palestinians in 1949 – houses hundreds of new refugees from Syria. They are considered among the poorest in the capital. There and elsewhere, the high costs of medical care mean that the UNHCR won’t cover treatment for chronic diseases, including cancer.

Malnourishment – a ticking time bomb

The team visited eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the area of Lebanon with one of the highest concentration of Syrian refugees – nearly 300,000. Many of the makeshift refugee camps there – referred to as “informal tented settlements” – lack adequate access to even the most basic necessities, such safe water, hygiene and sanitation. 

In addition to the strained resources and dire conditions, thousands of refugee children under 5 years of age are facing malnourishment in the camps. 

UNICEF has called it a “silent, emerging threat” that has left children at risk of dying and in urgent need of immediate treatment to survive. In 2013, the rates of malnutrition were double what they were just a year earlier.

Perilous trips back to Syria

Meanwhile, since many refugees with medical issues are strapped for cash they are simply unable to afford the high cost of treatment in Lebanon. Doctors told Amnesty International that many were repeatedly making the perilous trip back into Syria to receive care.

Some may have to go even farther afield to get the care they need. In Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, the team met a 12-year-old Syrian boy who suffers from infection and other complications after not receiving initial treatment for burns on his legs. His family is waiting to see if he can be sent to Europe to be treated. 

What needs to be done?

The UN says it needs to resettle some 30,000 Syrians in 2014. 

But with the total number of refugees from Syria in Lebanon due to skyrocket to 1.5 million by the end of the year, what will happen to the huge number who are still living in squalid conditions in the informal settlements in Bekaa Valley and elsewhere? 


Armed Conflict 
Medical And Health 
Refugees, Displaced People And Migrants 




Middle East And North Africa 

Follow #Refugees @amnestyonline on twitter


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