As refugee and migrant arrivals steadily increase, WHO invests in Europe’s public health response

For further information, contact:

Alison Sanders
Communications Consultant
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 45 33 6657

Press release

Copenhagen and Syracuse, 7 July 2017

WHO launches Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health

The first WHO Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health will take place on 10–14 July in Syracuse, Italy, with the theme “Managing the public health aspects of migration”. Over 1.3 million people have arrived to Europe by the Mediterranean Sea since 2015, and almost 3 million Syrian refugees are now living in Turkey. The course will proactively address the public health response to this phenomenon, and stimulate expert-driven knowledge transfer, intercountry collaboration and capacity-building within countries.

“WHO is firmly committed to ensuring the human right to health for all,” affirms Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health serves as a starting point for increased action and intensive problem solving around the critical issue of refugee health at this historic time of mass human migration. When we work hand-in-hand to address the health of migrants, everyone wins. When our migrants thrive, our communities thrive.”

Five-day course for high-level experts

Hosted by WHO/Europe, the first-of-its-kind Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health aims to provide education opportunities and support tools to equip public health workers, service providers and planners to implement informed, migrant-sensitive interventions. The course is designed to enable participating countries to share their knowledge and skills. It will convene experts from research, policy and practice around the topic of migrant health.

The 5-day course is offered through the WHO Knowledge Hub on Health and Migration. WHO/Europe organized the course with support from the Italian Ministry of Health and the Sicilian Regional Health Authorities, and in collaboration with the European Commission and the European Public Health Association. Participants will include representatives from Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Dr Santino Severoni, Coordinator of the WHO/Europe Migration and Health Programme, explains: “The Summer School serves as a pioneering effort to promote the sharing of knowledge and know-how, to further existing research and to encourage policy dialogue among countries that face similar challenges. These concepts are essential to developing and implementing effective and harmonized evidence-based interventions for refugees and migrants.”

Migration in Italy and the rest of Europe

WHO/Europe and its collaborators purposefully chose Syracuse as the location of the Summer School because of Italy’s proven experience with receiving migrants. The expertise of officials in Italy and other European host countries in addressing migrant health care is a learning opportunity for the world.

Unprecedented numbers of migrants still arriving in Europe

In 2016, arrivals to Europe totalled 363 348 – almost 1000 every day. Arrivals were split evenly between Italy and Greece, with smaller numbers arriving to Malta, Cyprus and Spain. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), fatalities and missing people reached at least 5 000, with several incidents remaining unaccounted for.

Please note the updated figures: This year, 98 185 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea by 3 June 2017. Over 86% arrived in Italy, and the remainder arrived in Greece,  Spain and Cyprus . According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 2 307 migrants and refugees died or went missing at sea in the process.

Background information

The Summer School and its objectives

The Summer School seeks to improve participants’ knowledge and understanding of the main health issues and needs of refugees and migrants, and of the broader public health and health-system implications of large-scale migration in origin, transit and destination countries. It provides a space for bridging research, policy and practice; sharing practical, real-world knowledge and experience; and fostering debate and critical thinking.

This year’s course, themed “Managing the public health aspects of migration”, will include a combination of plenary presentations, workshops, interactive discussions and panels, and a field trip to a point-of-entry location in Sicily known for receiving regular arrivals of refuges and migrants. The trip will offer participants first-hand knowledge of how authorities in Italy manage the public health challenges related to migrant influxes.

About the Knowledge Hub on Health and Migration

The WHO Knowledge Hub on Health and Migration, launched in November 2016, responds to the need for a single institute devoted to international migration and public health in the WHO European Region. It aims to provide a scientific and capacity-building forum to develop and improve public policies and interventions to address the health needs of migrants and the public health implications of migration in the Region.

The objectives of the Knowledge Hub are grounded in the European health policy framework Health 2020, as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Strategy and action plan for refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region, adopted by the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2016.

The Knowledge Hub’s core activities include:

  • the Summer School on Health and Migration;
  • high-level summits;
  • a knowledge library;
  • webinars; and
  • policy dialogues.

WHO/Europe has assessed the national health system capacity to manage large influxes of refugees and migrants in 12 countries of the Region. Carried out in cooperation with ministries of health, the assessments used WHO/Europe’s new toolkit, launched in December 2016. The toolkit acts as an instrument to ensure that refugees, migrants and the citizens of host countries have the same opportunities to access health care, in line with the European policy framework Health 2020 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Assessment outcomes identified common challenges, including the need to further develop specific professional competencies and to harmonize existing training curricula on migrant health and cultural mediation.