Summer School sets course for intercountry collaboration and capacity-building on refugee and migrant health

On 10–14 July, WHO/Europe held its inaugural Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health in Syracuse, Italy. The Summer School served as the starting point for a vast collaborative effort to learn about and improve the way the WHO European Region protects and promotes the health of refugees and migrants.

Participants from 30 countries around the world, representing nonprofit organizations, governments, United Nations agencies and academia, convened to grow their expertise and professional networks in the field of migrant health and well-being. The week-long course combined traditional lectures, workshops and panels with a live simulation exercise of a refugee rescue at sea.

Framing the issue with high-level keynote speeches

Keynote speeches from a range of senior experts launched the week with high-level reflections on the migration and health situation. Speakers included representatives of international organizations such as the European Commission, the Danish Refugee Council, the European Public Health Association, the Global Platform for Syrian Students, the International Organization for Migration and WHO, as well as the Italian Ministry of Health and the Sicilian Regional Health Council.

Many underscored the need to improve the way countries work together and collaborate around the issue of migration. A common theme was the need to increase cooperation among various government sectors to generate more cross-cutting, inclusive solutions for refugees and migrants.

Refugee rescue at sea: a simulation field trip

WHO also teamed with the Italian Government and military to offer Summer School participants a unique glimpse into the way Italy has aided thousands of refugees arriving by the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian authorities, who have significant experience in carrying out search-and-rescue operations, welcomed participants to view a simulation of the Italian Coast Guard’s response to a migrant boat emergency.

Following the simulated rescue mission, the exercise continued with a walk-though of the reception activities at the Port of Catania led by the local health authority and police.

Gathering perspectives through focused discussions

Throughout the week, plenary sessions offered venues for much of the discussion at the Summer School. They framed highly relevant topics such as human rights and cultural contexts, financing and capacity, epidemiology, designing health services along the migration route, and opportunities and challenges for migration and health research as well as policy development.

The Summer School also featured 8 in-depth workshops aimed at equipping participants with personalized, interactive tools and materials for critical areas within the scope of migration and health. Workshop topics included: planning in advance to manage large influxes, risk assessment, information management, communications, unaccompanied minors, tuberculosis, mental health, and intercultural competence and diversity sensitivity.

Perspectives from governmental and nongovernmental actors on migration and health

The Summer School concluded with 2 panel discussions. The first gathered delegates of 4 countries – Greece, Jordan, Serbia and Turkey – to discuss ongoing challenges and solutions in the public health management of migration. The second offered views of civil society and its role in the public health response to migration. Participants included representatives of the Italian Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières Greece, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, and Save the Children.