World Refugee Day: WHO/Europe reaffirms its dedication to broadening collaboration and knowledge transfer on migration and health

On World Refugee Day, the WHO European Region is reminded of the importance of addressing the health needs of refugees and migrants as they arrive in Europe. WHO/Europe’s Programme on Health and Migration is dedicated to promoting public health access and developing evidence-informed practices to assist countries in receiving large numbers of people. Critical to meeting the needs of large arrivals of migrants is enhanced platforms for cross-cutting collaboration, knowledge transfer and gathering good practices.

WHO/Europe has launched a broad-sweeping project to pioneer the way Europe and the world receive migrants, called the Knowledge Hub on Health and Migration. This hub will focus on 5 key activities to holistically inform every aspect of the health-care challenge as it pertains to refugees and migrants.

These activities comprise:

  • summer school courses to share knowledge and know-how in an annual education forum, complete with panels, workshops and plenaries;
  • webinars available for public engagement focusing on alternative, emergent and critical concepts surrounding health and migration, which will consist of in-depth panel discussions and interactive question-and-answer sessions;
  • policy dialogues, which will be small, relevant “hard talks” among experts to stimulate critical thinking on key issues related to migration and health;
  • a knowledge library offering extensive resources on migrant health;
  • high-level summits serving biannual gatherings targeting high-level policy-makers with the goal of seeking a consensus around 9 priority areas.

Migrant arrivals continue into Europe

The number of people seeking refugee status in Europe has soared over recent years. Increasing numbers of migrants make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, putting their safety at risk and costing thousands of lives. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 33 972 people a day are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. In the European Region, over 1.3 million refugees and migrants have arrived since 2015, and almost 3 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey.

WHO recognizes the strength and courage of millions of refugees, and their contribution to society. World Refugee Day also provides the opportunity to honour the dedication and diligence of medical personnel who provide crucial support and continue saving the lives of migrants in and beyond the European Region.

WHO’s recent work in migrant health promotion

The WHO “Strategy and action plan for refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region” emphasizes key principles including the right to health and equality and non-discrimination, equitable access to people-centred refugee- and migrant-sensitive health systems, non-restrictive health practices, addressing the social determinants of refugee and migrant health, extending the participation and social inclusion of refugees and migrants, and promoting international partnership and cooperation.

This work is now global with the decision of the World Health Assembly (WHA) to adopt the “Framework of priorities and guiding principles to promote the health of refugees and migrants”. WHO will now gather evidence that will support drafting a global action to be considered at the 72nd World Health Assembly in 2019. The WHA also encouraged Member States to use the Framework.

On 19 September 2016, United Nations Member States unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants directed at improving the way in which the international community responds to large movements of refugees and migrants, including protracted refugee situations. As a result, 2 global compacts are being developed. WHO/Europe is contributing to the global processes leading towards the development and formulation of the compacts through its engagement in the consultative process. It has taken an active role in ensuring health-related commitments to the needs of refugees and migrants are adequately addressed in the global compacts.

At operational and country levels, WHO/Europe facilitates a variety of life-saving interventions. It works with national and international health partners to ensure that migrants have continuous access to equitable and life-saving health services. For example in Turkey, WHO established a large field presence in Gaziantep in October 2013, and has since bolstered its presence, capacity and activities. In southern Turkey, activities include capacity development for Syrian medical staff, technical support for outbreak response and immunization campaigns, provision of life-saving equipment and drugs, as well as development and dissemination of information materials for refugees.

For more information on refugee and migrant health, please contact euphame@who.int.