BEIRUT - The Lebanese authorities have suspended financial assistance to Syrian refugees in the north of the country, a government source said on Wednesday, sparking concern among the displaced.
"Assistance through the Higher Relief Council has been temporarily suspended," an official in Prime Minister Najib Mikati's office said, adding that "the reason behind the suspension is technical, not political."
The official went on to say that "many Syrians are coming to Lebanon for treatment and claiming to be displaced persons, but it is not true. This is causing chaos, and the HRC needs time to reorganise its assistance."
The HRC and overseeing Minister Wael Abu Faour, of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said costs being were inflated by Syrians seeking secondary care such as cancer and diabetes treatment.
“Treatment will be suspended until a new system can be put in place to prevent exploitation,” Abu Faour said. “There are some people who claim they are displaced but they are not, and there is bad administration.”
“Who will help us?”
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 26,900 Syrians are registered refugees in Lebanon, though activists say the actual number of displaced is much higher.
Scores of wounded Syrians -- most of them arriving from neighbouring areas such as Homs -- have also sought medical treatment in the relative safety of north Lebanon.
Activists in Lebanon have expressed concern over the government's decision, particularly because of how it might affect the treatment of wounded Syrians in Lebanon.
"On Tuesday, a wounded man from Qusayr was refused treatment in the government hospital of Tripoli," according to Mustafa Obeid, who coordinates treatment for wounded Syrians in the north Lebanese city.
"He had to be taken to a private hospital, and his treatment funded entirely by a private donor," Obeid added.
The Syrian Refugee Coordination Committee in Lebanon said in a statement that although assistance has only just been formally suspended, wounded patients started to be refused treatment several days ago.
"We also note that the condition of the wounded in the Tripoli government hospital is very poor," the statement said.
"We hope the Lebanese government reverses its decision, which is contrary to the rights of the wounded."