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Lebanon: people without ID blocked from coronavirus testing

March 30, 2020 at 1:03 pm

Students wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus as a precaution in Beirut, Lebanon on 22 February 2020 [Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanese hospitals have been turning away undocumented people or setting prohibitively high costs for coronavirus testing, leaving many to fear for their health, according to a report by Al Jazeera. Refugees and domestic workers without the correct identification documents have been turned away by hospitals for both testing and treatment.

Al Jazeera added that Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) staff confirmed that its policy is to turn away undocumented people provided that they are not in need of emergency care. According to a source at the hospital, “We must provide the state with the name of any person who we test, so that if it is positive we can inform both the state and the person. We can’t do that without a name.” However, the source added, “To be very clear, anyone who comes to us in an emergency condition and needs treatment will be given treatment, but if they are not an emergency case we can’t”.

Some migrant domestic workers are unable to provide identification papers because their employers seize their passports when they enter the country. The practice is part of the migration sponsorship – “kafala” — system which ties legal residency to employment but does not grant workers healthcare cover.

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Those who want to be tested but are not in need of emergency care, are being told that they must pay up to 750,000 Lebanese Lira (approximately $498) to cover the cost of the procedure. Such a price tag is not only prohibitive for migrant workers, but also for the nearly 1.5 million refugees in the country and the thousands of Lebanese who live hand-to-mouth. Many of them are out of work as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, even prior to which thousands of people were struggling to meet rising living costs. The World Bank has warned that Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990 threatens to push more than 45 per cent of the population under the poverty line.

Fears that a coronavirus outbreak in the country’s 12 UN-run Palestinian refugee camps could be catastrophic have gripped the headlines, with several saying that a UNHCR distribution of soap and hygiene products is not enough to combat the spread of the disease.

According to a report by Al Arabiya, one group of residents in Beirut’s Mar Elias camp have taken community policing upon themselves and formed an emergency committee of volunteers. The group has distributed hygiene products including disinfectant spray to residents. Other members have guarded the entrances to the camp and broken up gatherings in efforts to adhere to the nationwide lockdown.

To date, Lebanon’s Health Ministry has reported 446 confirmed cases of infection, and 11 deaths from the virus.

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