Since 2019, Lebanon has been grappling with several overlapping crises, including the repercussions of the economic crisis, resulting in social unrest and political deadlock. In 2020, the spread of COVID-19 and the devastating Beirut Blast on August 4th, have exacerbated the situation for host and refugee communities alike. This has driven large swaths of the population, including the already vulnerable Syrian and Palestinian refugees, into poverty. It has also further hampered access to health care for patients in need.
Against this dire background, Geneva Call launched a new strategic campaign in January 2021. Its objective is to convince communities, local authorities and Armed non-State Actors (ANSAs) to recognize the right to health care as a fundamental human right and adopt concrete measures to facilitate access to health care, and consequently to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
More concretely, Geneva Call conducted parallel engagement with Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese stakeholders, encouraging them to take action within their respective spheres of influence to tackle COVID-19 and address issues pertaining to vulnerable communities’ access to health care.
Within the Palestinian refugee camps, Geneva Call worked with political factions and security bodies to strengthen their commitment to apply safety rules both within their ranks and within the community, with due regard to proportionality, legality and human rights considerations. Geneva Call strengthened partnerships with local actors by conducting community-based activities focused on disseminating protection messages linked to COVID-19 and the right to health care.
Geneva Call’s inclusive approach at all levels of the Palestinian community culminated in the adoption of a Unilateral Declaration by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its affiliated entities in Lebanon towards ‘safeguarding access to health care and preventing the spread of COVID-19’.
Furthermore, Geneva Call engaged with health care providers and representatives of the Syrian refugee community to identify challenges and propose ways to address hampered access to health care during the pandemic. Key observations from these interactions were subsequently utilized to inform dialogue with relevant Lebanese authorities, including representatives from ministries and the security sector, to support the adoption of policy measures aimed at tackling impediments faced by the most vulnerable.
To capitalize on these outcomes, Geneva Call organized a panel discussion around ‘Challenges Faced by Vulnerable Communities to Access Health care in times of Pandemic in Lebanon’ on the 24th of March 2021. The report generated as a result of this event will serve to further deepen the discussion around challenges and recommendations, and support advocacy efforts led by humanitarian actors across Lebanon.
Finally, Geneva Call engaged in humanitarian dialogue with Hezbollah, Shia religious scholars and academics to discuss challenges and opportunities geared toward addressing the pandemic and ensuring access to health care in times of armed violence and conflict.