Lebanon News

Lebanon's HRC halts Syrian refugee aid for lack of funds

Syrian refugees survey the wreckage after a fire swept through their compound of tents in Akkar, north Lebanon, Thursday, June 7, 2012. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)

BEIRUT: The head of Lebanon's Higher Relief Committee, Ibrahim Bashir, announced Tuesday that the state-run organization can no longer provide Syrian refugees with food or medical aid because funding has dried up.

“We stopped providing food and hospitalization at 12 p.m. Tuesday given that the number of refugees has risen dramatically,” Bashir told The Daily Star.

“Hospital bills are extremely high as some refugees suffer from heart problems, cancer and diabetes. We are unable to pay that much,” he added.

According to a report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there are now 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, of whom 26,905 are registered to receive regular services from the international organization.

Local charities as well as Bashir say that the actual number is closer to 60,000.

The UNHCR and the International Medical Corps are covering the costs of life-saving medical care. In addition, local charities are covering hospitalization costs at a number of private hospitals across the country.

The HRC has faced financial problems in the past. In March, the Finance Ministry approved $2 million in temporary funding for the organization to prevent it from suspending its operations.

The annual budget of the HRC, which distributes aid to refugees in various parts of the country, is $4 million, drawn primarily from donations and government funding.

The last budget approved by both the government and the Parliament was in 2005, and according to the Lebanese Constitution, the finance ministry is not authorized to spend beyond the ceiling set by the last approved budget.

But now the HRC needs more money.

“This year, monthly hospitalization bills have increased dramatically, said Bashir. “Two months ago, we paid $400,000 but in June alone, the bill reached $1.2 million,” he said.

The HRC head also said that the committee is in the process of re-evaluating the mechanism used to distribute aid and will set a new budget in order to maintain assistance for the thousands of refugees.

“We are conducting an evaluation of the funding in light of the number of Syrian refugees and we will issue an appeal for donations from countries that want to help the refugees,” said Bashir.

“This is an exceptional and temporary period due to the crisis [in Syria] but we do not know when it will end,” Bashir added.

The decision by the HRC will affect overall humanitarian aid for the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon to escape unrest in their country.

UNHCR spokeswoman Dana Sleiman said that the HRC’s move will have a “severe impact” on the work of the international organization.

“We will continue offering humanitarian assistance such as non-food items and shelter ... but we can’t provide secondary healthcare,” Sleiman told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, Refugees International, a non-governmental organization, said in its policy recommendations for Syrian refugees in Lebanon that the Lebanese government should prioritize establishing the HRC’s work and coordination process countrywide in order to provide assistance in all parts of the country.





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