UNHCR report shows health services for Syrian refugees increasingly overstretched

Briefing Notes, 26 April 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 April 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A UNHCR report has found that the Syria refugee crisis is increasingly straining health services in surrounding countries, while refugees are themselves facing increasing difficulties in accessing the quality treatment they need particularly those with chronic and other costly health conditions.

The report, which covers the first three months of 2013 in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, shows that refugees need treatment for a wide range of both common and conflict-related conditions. These include injuries, psychological illnesses and communicable diseases (e.g., respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, skin and eye conditions) often found in other refugee settings worldwide plus other costlier and longer term chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular illnesses as well as expensive referral care that is more commonly diagnosed and treated in middle income countries.

With more than a million Syrian refugees in these three countries, and more than 1.4 million around the region so far, the health system problems are mainly two-fold: Firstly, and with low funding for the Syrian refugee crisis, the challenge of providing access to quality healthcare for Syrian refugees is growing particularly for people living outside of camps. Secondly, the increasing numbers of people needing medical help is straining existing health services in each of the affected countries.

Both issues are a matter of serious concern to UNHCR. We continue, with our partners, to provide medical care for refugees in the camps in Jordan and Iraq. But for those refugees who live outside of camps, often in urban settings, the situation is more difficult. In Jordan and Iraq, healthcare costs for refugees are covered by governments, UNHCR and many other organisations; but providing expensive referral care, such as renal dialysis, orthopaedic surgery and cancer treatment is becoming much more difficult. In Lebanon, which has a largely privatized health care system and cost sharing is the norm, resource shortages mean we and our partner agencies are faced with having to reduce support for both primary and more costly referral health care.

In terms of the overall health situation of Syrian refugees, UNHCR's report shows a mixed picture. Syrian refugees are not reported to be suffering from high rates of mortality and acute malnutrition. Mortality at the Za'atari camp in Jordan, for example, is reported at 0.1 per 1000 persons per month, while global acute malnutrition in children below 5 years is less than 5.8 per cent neither rate being outside norms seen in the region; this is in contrast to many other humanitarian situations in other parts of the world. However, preventative services, chronic disease treatment and expensive referral care are not sufficiently provided at a cost that refugees, despite the support provided by the governments and humanitarian agencies, can afford.

Among people undergoing consultation for mental health illness, generalized anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder were found at Jordan's Za'atari camp in 21.6 per cent and 8.5 per cent of patients, respectively. In Lebanon some 400 mental health consultations are conducted every week. Disease outbreaks have been limited thus far and the surveillance systems have been capturing them; these include limited transmission of measles, hepatitis A and leishmaniasis.

The report was primarily based on information from established refugee camps except for data from Lebanon, and showed among other issues, that further work is needed to improve data collection particularly for out-of-camp situations. UNHCR and its partners have already begun working to address this issue. The report is being posted online today at http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php.

As of data received last night 1,401,435 Syrians have now registered as refugees in the region, or are pending registration. This corresponds to 30 per cent more than the total envisaged under the current Regional Refugee Response Plan by end June 2013 for which around 55 per cent of funding has so far been received. An updated plan is due to be presented to donors in late May. UNHCR continues to roll out additional capacity as funding comes in.

Refugee numbers by country:

JORDAN (as of 24 April) Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR: 448,370

Registered / Pending registration: 393,370/ 55,000

LEBANON (as of 24 April) Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR: 441,394

Registered / Pending registration: 325,791/ 115,603

IRAQ (as of 24 April) Syrians registered with UNHCR: 137,657

TURKEY (Govt of Turkey figures as of 25 April) Syrians registered in camps and in urban areas and Syrians awaiting registration in urban areas: 313,689

To date, 88,953 Syrian refugees have been registered in urban areas in addition to 191,551 registered in camps (total registered: 280,504).

33,185 Syrians are awaiting registration in urban areas.

EGYPT (as of 23 April) Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR: 50,273

Registered / Pending registration: 39,273/ 11,000

North Africa (as of 15 April) Syrians registered with UNHCR: 10,052

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Beirut: Reem Alsalem on mobile + 961 71 911 388
  • In Amman: Tala Kattan on mobile: +962 79 978 3186
  • In Baghdad: Natalia Prokopchuk on mobile +964 780 921 7341
  • In Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Abu Asaker (Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Daniel McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 30 11
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 9138
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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

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The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

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