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.
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.
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.
At Rafik Harir hospital. Health system strained by big number of Syrian refugees. Of 2852 babies delivered 2013, 1997 were Syrian. #beirut
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.
Refugees from #Syria in Chatila inc Palestinians that fled Syria are considered some of the poorest in Beirut
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.
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.
UNICEF say malnutrition is a silent emerging threat in lebanon. Severe acute malnutrition doubled in 2013 vs in 2012 pic.twitter.com/zp77nS3puW
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.
doctors tell AI that #SyrianRefugees are forced to go back to Syria for medical treatment because cost of treatment in Lebanon is too high
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.
in tripoli, intvwd 12yr old syria 'n boy wth burns on legs. Not initially treated, led to complications and infections
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?