Winter is coming for asylum seekers !
The migration flow usually stops when winter season comes. It has always been so. However, on the basis of the last data forecasted by EASO, the flow will not stop during the next following months. Thus, the health dimension of the migration crisis will become a priority on the top of the European agenda. This issue was examined during the informal meeting of Health Ministers, held in Brussels on September 25th.
Health challenges of the asylum crisis
Every single death in the Mediterranean sea is a reminder that the journey toward the Europe is not a sinecure. Conditions surrounding the migration process can increase migrants vulnerability to ill health at each stage of the process. Indeed, between the pre-departure step, marked by trauma such as war or torture, and the perilous travel conditions, migrants arrive in Europe in poor health condition and everything becomes worst in winter. The specific health needs of migrants are, However, poorly understood, mainly because health systems are not prepared to adequately respond to this new challenge. A challenge that deeply increased by the tremendous amount of asylum seekers the European Union is now dealing with.
How does the European Union answer this health issue?
On the basis of the article 19 of the European Directive n°2013/33/EU laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection, Member States :
“ shall ensure that applicants receive the necessary health care which shall include, at least, emergency care and essential treatment of illnesses and of serious mental disorders.
shall provide necessary medical or other assistance to applicants who have special reception needs, including appropriate mental health care where needed. ”
Thus, in every European country, medical assistance has to be provided to migrants. To a certain extent this really seems to be the case. In France, migrants can freely access emergency care and benefit from the couverture maladie universelle. In the same way, in UK, all asylum seekers and refugees are entitled to receive free NHS hospital treatment and some prescription charges have been abolished. Moreover, different entitlements to free hospital treatment for refused asylum seekers exist in all the UK. To sum up, migrants share, more or less, the same rights with the European citizens in the health area.
So what is the problem and why does the European approach to health care in the migration process need a reform?
Despite the legal framework according to which migrants are granted access to health care services, the situation is quite far from an ideal one. Asylum seekers face important practical barriers to actually access the health care system in all Member States due to lack of information and time, economic precariousness or language and cultural constraints.
EQUI-HEALTH, together with other currently ongoing projects, is promoting responsiveness to public health threats in the Mediterranean Regions. Despite the importance attributed to the issue and its definition as an immediate priority, migrants’ Health condition still lacks an answer to tackle the upcoming worsening.
Concerning the coordinated management of migration flow, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaiti, announced that the Commission was preparing a list of the most urgent medical check-ups to be used in the forthcoming hotspots system.
To this regard it would be remarkable to complement the health dimension within the hotspot system, in particular to tackle the difficulties deriving from the lack of information on both sides.
Furthermore, on 23 September 2015, the Commission has announced an incrementation of
€100 million of the emergency funding for the most affected Member States in addition to the previous €73 million increment.
We do think that Vytenis Adriukaiti is making a good call, the allocation of funds devolved to migrants actually comes at the right moment. However, these are still the first steps of a long path toward an adequate response to migrants’ health concerns. The need for a more coordinated management of the issue is still evident. It is needless to say that some progress have been made since 2009, when the HUMA network was calling for binding norms to provide access to healthcare for undocumented migrants. Nevertheless a severe lack of efficiency can be detected in the domain of migrants’ management in terms of information and coordination between Member States.
by Lisa Vallese & Aurelio Volle
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