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Urgent new policies needed to provide aid to refugees: MSF

Syrian refugees sits around a wood burning oven in Kfarkahel village, in the Koura district close to the northern city of Tripoli on January 9, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Ibrahim Chalhoub

BEIRUT: Urgent changes are needed in the provision of aid to keep up with the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, the director of the Swiss section of Medicins Sans Frontieres said during a visit to the country. “There has to be a switch in the policy of addressing this problem. What was done in the first year is definitely not enough to address the current scale, or the magnitude of this problem,” Bruno Jochum told The Daily Star during a visit to Lebanon.

“There is some optimism about intentions by the government and the UNHCR, but we actually have to see that translate into practice, and not within months, or a year, but within weeks. It has to be done quickly,” he said.

The biggest problem, Jochum said, was the time between refugees’ arrival and their registration with the UNHCR, which gives them access to aid. Around 60 percent of unregistered refugees in December were not having their needs met, he said.

MSF is also calling for the full costs of health care to be provided for the refugee population where necessary. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees covers 85 percent of costs but, Jochum said, that is not always enough.

“Asking them to pay 15 percent on the table beforehand is simply not reachable for a lot of these families,” he said, “and solutions are not always found to cover this 15 percent. Money should not be an obstacle to emergency medical needs.”

This leaves many refugees either without the medical treatment they need or facing dangerous delays as they seek to raise the cash. Refugees have reported traveling from hospital to hospital to find one that will treat them before payment, even for vital treatment such as caesarean sections or deliveries. In one case MSF dealt with, a young refugee in the Bekaa died after his father was unable to find a hospital willing to treat him before he could secure the funds.

During his five-day visit Jochum traveled to areas where MSF is providing refugees with medical care, including psychological help, and some fuel and blanket kits. It was his first visit since December 2011 and he noted that the rapid increase in refugees in that time had not been matched by the response, and criticized the failure to adapt to the changing situation.

“Initially the reaction was to have solidarity with a few thousand refugees. It was seen as a temporary situation,” he said. While the government and NGOs had upped their provisions in the period since then, they had not done so fast enough, and “actually the absolute number of people without assistance has increased.”

“When people are fleeing a war zone coming in with very little, to have such delays in the recognition of their situation is extremely detrimental,” he added.

Jochum also addressed the aid situation in Syria, where MSF have three field hospitals. The organization issued a statement last week criticizing the lack of aid reaching rebel-held areas.

“In the end, ways have to be found for these funds to reach the vulnerable people in Syria,” he said, adding that as the conflict continues, Syrians are lacking basic health care.

“More and more what they’re observing is a general collapse of the health system. A few months ago their focus was very much on the wounded and the direct victims of the war. But this is no longer the accurate picture. People are in need of everyday medical treatment,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 04, 2013, on page 4.

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