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Healthcare and psychological support for Syrian refugees

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Daniela Oberti is an MSF nurse working with Syrian refugees in the mountains of eastern Lebanon. She describes how these “ordinary families” are coping with their lives having been overturned by war.

“It has been a long day. This morning I was at the clinic in Aarsal, at an altitude of 1,600 metres, with only the mountains separating us from Syria. The landscape is breathtaking, with the mountain peaks still dusted with snow, but on the slopes it’s starting to heat up. For many Syrians, this is the first port of call after arriving in Lebanon.

Over the last few weeks, many NGOs have arrived in Aarsal, and the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, has begun official registration proceedings. This means Syrians are given a card which recognises them as displaced people and gives them access to the various services available through local and international organisations.

No more empty houses

When I arrived here a month and a half ago, there were still empty houses in Aarsal. Now every building – whether finished or still under construction – has been rented out to Syrians. Many of the refugees have also been taken in by their Lebanese neighbours, or are staying in tents provided by local NGOs. There are entire families living in a huge, unfinished mosque. They have been provided with water, food and hygiene packs.

Most of the children are not going to school. A few of the men are looking for work as carpenters, for a pittance, but most people have no work and no idea what will happen to them

These are ordinary people, ordinary families, who have been forced to flee their country due to the unrest. Most have travelled from Homs, where bombs are still falling and clashes between insurgents and the army are rife.

Finding a voice

Later in the day, I meet up with two psychologists, Arianna and Mohamed, at the unfinished mosque. We are looking for one of Mohamed’s patients who has stopped coming to their sessions. I take the opportunity to talk to some of the families, who are quick to invite us for coffee in their tents.

I come across Hamia, a young woman who has also stopped coming to sessions with her psychologist. She’s nearly 20 and is staying in a room in the mosque with other members of her family. They are all very worried about her. The room is empty apart from the mattresses and rugs that cover the floor. Hamia is sitting in the corner, wrapped in two blankets. She cries constantly and has stopped talking. We are told that her 16-year-old brother was killed yesterday in Syria. Everybody is shocked by this news – I am speechless. I ask her if she would like to talk to the psychologist, and she agrees, so Mohamed comes to talk with her.

A duty to listen

That evening, I think about the people I have met, the faces I have seen, with their sad eyes, many on the verge of tears, yet still dignified and hospitable. I think of the men and women who thanked me, though all I did was listen to their health problems and invite them to come to the clinic the next day.

Many people want to talk, to tell me about themselves. I feel like I have a duty to be there and to listen to their stories, to the snapshots of their lives. On the news they talk about bombs, injuries, deaths; but behind every bomb, every injury and every death are entire families, entire communities, who are suffering. These are people like you and me, who have committed no crime, and yet who find themselves in the middle of a war.”