Migrants’ health, a priority during the EU Italian Presidency

Italy has put migration on the front-page of the European agenda during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). Throughout the second semester of 2014, the Italian Presidency of the EU has organized a number of meetings and conferences to re-start the dialogue on migration across the Mediterranean. Several events have focused on health as a key entry point to reduce inequities and vulnerability among migrant population and to further promote a Mediterranean and inter-regional dialogue on migrants’ health.

Conference on health inequities and vulnerability: Capacity building and interventions among EU Member States

The dissemination meeting on health inequities and vulnerabilities took place in Rome in October 2014 as part of a series of workshops and conferences co-organized by the Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency (Chafea) of the European Commission.

Hosted under the auspices of the EU Italian Presidency, its main goal was the dissemination of the results of the 2nd EU Health Programme. Socioeconomic status, gender, age or the belonging to minority groups such as migrants and other ethnic minorities are key determinants of health, resulting in unjust and avoidable health inequities. The work of the WHO Regional Office for Europe in the field of migrants’ health through the project Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) was presented. Emphasis was given to the public health implications of migration and the way WHO/Europe is assisting Mediterranean Member States in strengthening their health systems’ responses to large immigration.

Conference on Health in the Mediterranean

During the same month, October 2014, the Italian Ministry of Health organized the Conference on Health in the Mediterranean in Rome, Italy. This two-day event opened with a presentation of the Mediterranean Projects in the field of public health promoted and funded by the Italian Ministry of Health, including the WHO/Europe project Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe. Separate session was dedicated to the topic of migrants’ health, which brought together key stakeholders - WHO/Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the Directorate-General of Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) at the European Commission and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). At the national level, the Italian Ministry of Health presented an overview of the “Mare Nostrum” operation and its health implications; while at the regional level, the region of Sicily presented the first contingency plan in Europe for the adequate management of migrants’ public health needs, developed with the technical assistance of WHO/Europe.

Fundamental rights and migration to the EU

In November 2014, the Fundamental Rights Conference organized by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights also focused on the issues of migration to the EU. The importance of a fundamental-right approach to migration policy was highlighted; especially as the end of the military and humanitarian operation Mare Nostrum and the beginning of the new operation Triton come closer.  The main emphasis was put on the way the European Union will respond to the large influxes of migration from the North of Africa and the Middle East.

WHO/Europe participated in this conference given the increasing amount of work at the Mediterranean borders through the PHAME project. On the one hand, the key role of public health surveillance at the borders was highlighted. On the other hand, the strong link between health and integration policies was also recognized. Access to health and adequate health status are indispensable to ensure migrants’ full social, economic and political participation.