Life in the Palestinian camp of Shatila is very difficult. It is not a closed camp; people can move in and out freely. But Palestinians are not allowed to own anything in Lebanon, nor to have a business outside of the camps, and they have limited access to work in the Lebanese public and private sectors. They also have little to no access to the Lebanese public healthcare system. Palestinians in Lebanon are not granted basic civil rights, so they stay in this neighbourhood because it’s more affordable for them to live here and because they would prefer to live among other Palestinians to feel that they are part of a community.
Following the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon in 2011, Shatila now also hosts many Syrian families. Palestinians in Shatila have welcomed the arriving Syrians, as well as other refugees and also vulnerable Lebanese, because it is a way to create and encourage economic dynamics within the camp. Many Palestinians have opened small shops and businesses in the camp, and more people living in the camp means more clients. It is a survival mechanism.
MSF works in Shatila to respond to the increased demand for health care in this area of south Beirut. Shatila is an important place to be, since it is accessible for the estimated 200,000 Syrians living in south Beirut. MSF clinics are open for all who meet the medical admission criteria, including Palestinians, but we do not see many Palestinian patients because UNRWA* is providing health services for them.
In our clinics in Shatila we see a range of health problems. What is maybe specific – because our patients are refugees – is that they have many mental health problems. Palestinians have different issues facing them since the community is composed of generations born and growing up in the camps. Then you have Syrians who arrived five years or three weeks ago. Each one of them has different problems to treat.
MSF runs a primary health centre in Shatila, where we provide chronic non-communicable disease and paediatric care, and mental health services, all free of charge. MSF’s biggest activity in Shatila is maternity – where we provide antenatal care, postnatal care, family planning, and normal deliveries. We refer the complicated pregnancies and deliveries to hospitals – and for those patients we cover the remaining 25 percent of hospitalisation costs that are not covered by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR). (July 2016)
*The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East