Despite a surge in initiatives to integrate foreign-trained physicians into local health systems and a drive to learn from localised humanitarian initiatives under the COVID-19 pandemic, we still know little about the on-the-ground strategies developed by refugee doctors to meet the needs of refugee patients. In Lebanon, displaced Syrian health professionals have mounted informal, local responses to care for displaced Syrian patients. Drawing on ethnographic work shadowing these healthcare providers across their medical and non-medical activities, we explore how clinical encounters characterised by shared histories of displacement can inform humanitarian medicine. Our findings shed light on the creation of breathing spaces in crises. In particular, our study reveals how displaced healthcare workers cope with uncertainty, documents how displaced healthcare workers expand the category of ‘appropriate care’ to take into account the economic and safety challenges faced by patients, and locates the category of ‘informality’ within a complex landscape of myriad actors in Lebanon. This research article shows that refugee-to-refugee healthcare is not restricted to improvised clinical encounters between ‘frontliners’ and ‘victims of war’. Rather, it is proactively enacted from the ground up to foster appropriate care relationships in the midst of violent, repeated, and protracted disruptions to systems of care.