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UN Cuts Aid in Lebanon, Profiteering on Rise

A Lebanese doctor checks a Syrian refugee at a mobile clinic for Doctors Without Borders, in the eastern Lebanese town of Marj near the border with Syria, May 20, 2013.

A Lebanese doctor checks a Syrian refugee at a mobile clinic for Doctors Without Borders, in the eastern Lebanese town of Marj near the border with Syria, May 20, 2013.

A lack of funding is forcing United Nation agencies helping in Lebanon to cutback on assisting Syrian refugees. Medical subsidies are to be reduced and so too is food assistance. Meanwhile, there are reports that Lebanese hospitals and shops contracted by the U.N. are profiteering.

Half-a-million Syrians have registered so far in Lebanon as refugees and relief agencies are fast running out of funds.

Lebanon does not have refugee camps, with most Syrian refugees living in rented accommodation while some live with friends and relatives. The U.N. says the refugees live in these makeshift accommodations in 1,400 towns across Lebanon.

Despite the large number of Syrian refugees, only 26 percent of the U.N.’s needed funding in Lebanon has arrived. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is having to cutback on subsiding medical care.

“We have had to make a very painful choice of reducing the health care services to refugees from 85 to 75 percent of life saving operations only, and many refugees are finding it very, very expensive to cover the 25 percent. So we are doing our best to refer them to other agencies that are on the ground also working, doing their best to fill this gap,” said Dana Sleiman of the U.N.’s refugee agency.

But there are reports from refugees that hospitals have been over charging when they know the care is being paid for by the U.N.

One invoice seen by VOA for an appendix operation at a Beirut public hospital showed the U.N. being charged $1,000 for the surgery and the Syrian patient $400. The average cost for the surgery is about $500.

The U.N.’s Sleiman acknowledged there are problems.

“It is true that in many instances, a few instances let’s say, we have seen reports of people telling us that we are charged more than we are supposed to. These reports we take extremely seriously, we follow up on these reports. It is a very big operation. We have to, you know, we have to have faith at the end of the day,” said Sleiman.

But Rabe Bana of the Jesuit Refugee Service said profiteering off international donors is widespread.

“They are being overcharged. They charge the U.N. more. It is happening in many hospitals in the Bekaa and the Rafiq Hariri Hospital in Beirut,” said Bana.

Syrian refugees and aid workers said shop owners are also taking advantage.

The U.N.’s World Food Program has been giving each registered refugee $31 worth of food coupons a month, an amount that will be reduced to $27 in coming weeks partly because of a budgetary squeeze.

The vouchers can be used at shops that have contracted with the U.N., but store owners raise the prices for goods when they are used.

WFP’s William Barakat said the agency is trying to curb the corruption.

“There is misuse among the contracted shops, the WFP shops, all over Lebanon and particularly in the Bekaa. We are monitoring our shops and whenever we identify similar cases, we warn the shops and after that we cancel the contract,” he said.

Barakat says seven stores in the Bekaa Valley recently lost their contracts.

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