Three countries currently constitute 50% of the world’s refugees. According to the latest data released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Syria accounts for 4.9 million refugees, Afghanistan accounts for 2.7 million refugees and Somalia accounts for 1.1 million refugees.
About 39% of the world’s refugees are displaced in Africa and the Middle East compared to Europe which only hosts 6% of the world’s refugee population. However, due to the rapidly increasing number of refugees entering European soils who do not have access to proper health care, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for better health reforms for refugees in a press statement today.
WHO aims to manage the influx of refugees by drawing on the experience of past migration and health programmes to develop a strategy and action plan on refugee and migrant health. The organization will be focusing on strategic areas and prioritizing research and health system challenges faced due to migration.
Both the strategy and action plan will be submitted for approval, along with a resolution, to the WHO Regional Committee for Europe to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, which will comprise of all 53 member states and will meet for four days in September 2016.
Around 75 million international migrants are estimated to be living in Europe alone, accounting for one third of all international migrants worldwide. This global phenomenon has seen a massive rise over the last couple of years amidst conflicts, wars and global inequalities.
Europe, however, has observed only a fraction of the total refugee population. Over 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in European countries in 2015 last year, and over the course of the first five months of 2016 there have been over 200,000 new arrivals on European shores and borders. Furthermore, according to the global trends report released by UNHCR, the number of global refugees jumped from 59.5 million in 2014 to 65.3 million last year. The report stated some grim facts regarding the refugee crisis — 24 people are forcibly displaced from their homes every minute.
Similarly devastating facts barely shed light on the migration crisis, as the situation is worsening with each passing day. A briefing, released by the European Parliament in January of this year, emphasizes on and plans for the importance of providing healthcare to vulnerable groups such as migrants, regardless of their legal status.
The European Commission has mobilized emergency funding and is supporting projects under the European Union Health Programme. Moreover, the Commission recently introduced a personal health record for establishing migrants’ medical needs, which will be made available in locations where groups of migrants enter the European Union.
The European region lacks accurate, robust and useable data on migration patterns and trends across Europe. In order to gather evidence and explore migration trends fully, WHO is publishing a series of Health Evidence Network (HEN) reports, by collaborating with several universities across Europe and polishing the existing data on migration patterns and public health. The HEN reports contain details of policies and interventions designed to help reduce inequalities in quality and accessibility of healthcare which will be the foundation for the development of the action plan on refugee and migrant health.
The limited statistics paint a dark picture — refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are at a greater risk of health diseases and, in some cases, increased rates of infant mortality. These figures also show that migrants are usually employed in high-risk low-paying jobs on a temporary basis which can lead to stress, depression, anxiety and an increased risk of drug abuse.
Women are at a higher risk of exposure to violence, rape, abuse and sex trafficking, moreover they can face pregnancy and childbirth-related diseases due to lack of medical resources. Also worrying is the fact that men are also at a higher risk of work-related hazards, stress and occupational accidents.
One of the major factors of these higher exposures to health risks is the lack of necessary documents and permits. Refugees are at a higher health risk because of their irregular status and as a consequence of economic and social exclusion. Undocumented migrants only have access to emergency facilities across Europe and even when they are entitled to health care, there are an abundance of political barriers that hinder access. This eventually raises an abundance of questions regarding public and migrant healthcare policies. A HEN report found 122 documents that suggested policies and interventions to improve health care access and delivery for undocumented migrants.
The health problems faced by migrants are similar to the ones faced by the rest of the population although some are more prevalent among migrants. The most common and frequent health diseases faced by migrants are gastrointestinal illnesses, accidental injuries, burns, hypothermia, cardiovascular events, pregnancy and delivery-related complications, hypertension and diabetes.