Interview with Dr. Kamel Mohanna, founder and director of Amel Association, a non-sectarian Lebanese NGO founded 30 years ago. Dr. Mohanna is also a paediatrician.
How many Syrian refugees are in Lebanon?
Amel Association estimates that there are 300,000 refugees – double the UNHCR figures. Their number could easily expand to 700,000 if intense fighting breaks out in Damascus. Many residents of Syria’s capital and its suburbs have taken refuge in Lebanon, specifically in the Bekaa region.
With winter arriving, what is their situation?
Their situation is now serious. Their number has significantly increased and there is a lack of funds to address their needs. With the colder weather, refugees are housed together in tight quarters, often in poor sanitary conditions. We are starting to see a wide range of health issues: hepatitis, diarrhea, malnutrition, lice, scabies and other infectious diseases.
Those that are suffering the most: women, children and the old. There is a host of maternal health issues and many children are suffering from extreme shock from the fighting they witnessed back home.
How is the mass arrival of refugees affecting Lebanon’s delicate political balance?
Unfortunately, the political situation is deteriorating as well. Lebanese officials maintain their “neutral” stance vis-à-vis the Syrian civil war while in reality, one part of the Lebanese political class supports the Syrian regime while the other part is against it. If the refugee population does expand to 700,000 in Lebanon, this will have serious repercussions for political stability in Lebanon.
This being said – Syrian refugees do feel at home here in Lebanon, and family ties are strong. Before the Syrian civil war, there were already hundreds of thousands of Syrian workers in the country. And importantly, during the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, over 200,000 Lebanese refugees crossed into Syria, where they stayed with family members. Today, these Syrian families are in Lebanon.
How is Amel Assocation working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon?
When the conflict started, we began working with refugees in the Bekka region. Today we have medical centres around the country with 30,000 Syrians in our centres. We first started working in the Bekaa region with Syrian refugees, now we now have medical centres around the country which provide essential health care services for refugees.
Amel works with numerous foreign NGOs who are now in Syria. Is their work for Syrian refugees coordinated?
We’ve seen a large increase in the “charity business” by international NGOs in Lebanon, with lots of direct money coming in through fundraising campaigns carried out in the West. Unfortunately, many of these NGOs prefer to work alone and not with local organizations such as Amel Association. I don’t understand how these organizations can fly into our country and not work with organizations such as Amel that has been working in regions like the Bekaa for 30 years. We need more coordination.