Lebanese residents of the remote, high plateau area of Wadi Khaled are facing the same hardships as the Syrian refugees there.
Ilham and her husband Akram, are Lebanese citizens living in Wadi Khaled, in Akkar district, northern Lebanon. The area juts into Syria and is surrounded by military checkpoints.
Wadi Khaled is one of the poorest areas of Lebanon. Because of its proximity to some of the early Syrian conflict hotspots, such as Homs, it was among the first Lebanese regions Syrian refugees moved to at the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011.
The Syrian crisis has had a huge toll on the area’s economy. The closing of the northern border between Lebanon and Syria led to a decrease in trade, which the area’s economy relies on. Rising unemployment has affected Lebanese and Syrians alike.
Ilham’s and Akram’s living conditions are no different from those of Bahria and Zahri, two Syrian refugees from Homs who have lived in Wadi Khaled for five years.
Akram and Zahri are unemployed and both they and their wives suffer from chronic diseases requiring constant medical follow-up and medication. They met in a primary healthcare clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Jandula-Wadi Khaled.
At the beginning of 2017, MSF opened a treatment centre for chronic diseases, which expanded to become a primary healthcare centre within just a few months.
Today, the centre also offers paediatric, mental health, and health education services. Staff carry out around 1,400 medical consultations a month, in addition to 120 mental health consultations, enabling the most vulnerable groups, including Lebanese and Syrian refugees, access to primary healthcare services.
Before the MSF clinic opened in Wadi Khaled, 61-year-old Ilham and Akram had to travel 70 kilometres from their home to Tripoli every couple of months for their medical appointments.
Often, they couldn’t afford the trip or the medical consultations. Since MSF’s clinic opened in their home town, managing their medical conditions has become a lot easier.
“My husband and I have been visiting MSF’s clinic for six months,” says Ilham. “Here, we have regular medical check-ups. We also get the medication we need for free.”
Ilham says a heavy burden has been lifted from their shoulders.
“I no longer worry about not having enough money to buy medication,” she explains. “And I don’t have to travel dozens of kilometres to see the doctor, given that the clinic is five minutes away from home.”
Bilal Hassan, a 37-year-old Syrian refugee who moved to Lebanon four years ago, has also found living conditions difficult. He is a father of six and unemployed. When his son Waleed’s face was cut in an accident, he couldn’t afford to go to a private clinic or pay to travel for treatment outside Wadi Khaled. MSF’s clinic, which is close to his home, was his best option.
The situation is the same for 28-year-old Lebanese citizen Zeinab. Her husband works in water distribution, but has no regular employment. She brought her two daughters to the paediatrics department of MSF’s clinic in Jandula.
“Whenever one of my girls fell sick, I would have to try to find between US$20 and US$35 dollars to go to a private clinic,” she says. Often she didn’t have the money.
“I am happy that by coming here, I am able to have my girls treated for free,” says Zeinab.
“The money my husband earns from his irregular employment is not enough to pay for food and rent, so how could we possibly buy medicine for our children?”
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began working in Lebanon in 1976 in response to the Lebanese Civil War, sending medical teams to the south of the country and Beirut. This was MSF’s first mission in a war zone.