Collaboration on refugee and migrant health

WHO/Malin Bring

Countries in the WHO European Region have agreed to prepare a common framework for coordinated collaboration and action on refugee and migrant health, based on solidarity and mutual assistance and in the spirit of the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, whereby "no one should be left behind".

The reasons for having a common framework and its scope are outlined in Stepping up action on refugee and migrant health, a document summarizing discussions between ministers of health, country delegations and partners at the High-level meeting on Refugee and Migrant Health that took place in Rome, Italy, on 23–24 November 2015. 

"It is imperative to prevent the unacceptable deaths of migrants and refugees, particularly across dangerous sea routes, and to implement a coherent and consolidated national and international response to the health needs of refugee and migrant populations in the countries of transit and destination", countries noted in the document.

In explaining why a common framework is necessary, countries agreed that, although they are taking steps to respond to the health needs of refugees and migrants and are showing solidarity, some challenges and demands exceed their capacity to put public health measures in place and provide access to health services for refugees. Specifically, they noted that health systems must be "migrant sensitive" and address the barriers to accessing care that many migrants encounter, including language, administrative hurdles and lack of information on health entitlements.

The document states, among other issues:

  • Migrants and refugees do not pose an additional threat to health security in host communities.
  • Screening can be an effective public health instrument but should be non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing and should benefit both the individual and the public.
  • Special attention should be paid to the most vulnerable groups, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities and victims of torture.
  • Health records and health cards must be made portable as a priority.

A European framework on migration and health will be prepared collaboratively by Member States in the WHO European Region and key United Nations and European partners and will be submitted for discussion at WHO/Europe's governance meeting in September 2016, the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.