BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Syrian opposition disputes HRC’s funding shortage claim

Syrian refugees in the city of Sidon, after receiving aid from United Nations officials. (The Daily Star / Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: An official with the Syrian opposition’s main relief organization Thursday disputed the Higher Relief Committee’s claim that it had been forced to cease funding nonlife-threatening medical treatment for wounded Syrian refugees because its funds had dried up.

“I’m sure they have the money,” said Wael Kaldy, the assistant head of the Higher Commission for Syrian Relief.

Ibrahim Bashir, the head of the HRC, told The Daily Star Tuesday that the Lebanese government’s halted its aid because funding has dried up and it would be seeking additional finance to help end an “exceptional period.”

“I don’t think that if the government asked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or any other government, to help, they would say no,” Kaldy said.

In an interview with The Daily Star in May, Bashir said he had “all the support that I need [from the government], especially for the wounded.”

He also said at the time that an announcement by the HRC in March – that aid to Syrians would be cut off if funding from the government was not forthcoming – was a maneuver to force NGOs and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to step up aid efforts.

Funding was secured shortly after.

“Hospital bills are extremely high as some refugees suffer from heart problems, cancer and diabetes.

“We are unable to pay that much,” Bashir said Tuesday.

Kaldy said he understood that the government could not take on the costs of such medical treatment for refugees. “We understand that, and it is my mission to find someone [to pay] for these people.”

Meanwhile, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour Thursday said treatment was being suspended in order to put implement a spending mechanism to prevent exploitation by patients.

“Treatment will be suspended until a new system can be put in place to prevent exploitation,” Abu Faour told Reuters. “There are some people who claim they are displaced but they are not, and there is bad administration.”

Abu Faour, whose ministry oversees the operations of the HRC, was also quoted as saying that “costs were being inflated by Syrians seeking secondary care such as cancer and diabetes treatment.”

But Kaldy said the government has been “threatening to stop [medical aid] since September, to push for international charities to give the money.” He added that he didn’t believe that the government would take such an action.

“I thought someone would intervene [at the last minute],” he said.

According to the UNHCR’s latest weekly report, there are 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 26,905 of whom are registered to receive regular services from the agency. Local charities say that the actual number of refugees in the country is closer to 60,000.

Kaldy said that he believed that the funding would resume eventually, and added that other NGOs were currently supporting 60 to 70 percent of medical costs, and would eventually be able to provide 100 percent.

But he said that the suddenness of the HRC’s announcement would create a provision gap of at least a month as other charities sought to organize funds, during which refugees would suffer.

“Even if other charities can fund this, there will be a lag for them to file the paperwork, to transfer the money etc,” he said.

“They will start funding it again. They have to. But between then and now they will help the Syrian regime,” by discouraging refugees to flee Syria, he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 13, 2012, on page 3.

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