Sunday, October 09, 2016

One year on and no change

"Migration and Refugee Health" was one of the top issues at the 2015 World Health Summit (WHS) in Berlin. And there will be no change at 2016 summit, which starts today.

"I would say, unfortunately, that it is worse," says Roumyana Petrova-Benedict, who was on the 2015 panel and is a senior regional migration health manager for Europe and Central Asia at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), "There were gaps in finding sufficient health staff, the skill-mix at health institutions, a lack of mediators and interpreters, psychologists and physicians. The number of [migrants] is much bigger now and they face greater uncertainties. So despite all efforts and funding from the [European] Commission, I cannot say the situation has improved.” The uncertainties are "aggravating their mental health, in addition to all they've undergone during their journey," says Petrova-Benedict. "And there are many more children now. About one-third are children, and one in five are unaccompanied minors."

Florian Westphal, general director of MSF Germany, explains, "I could also talk about the 60,000 people stuck in Greece, who don't know what's going to happen to them and whether they will be allowed to rejoin family members elsewhere in Europe, or whether they will be pushed out to Turkey." People's health is being "impacted quite strongly," says Westphal, by the uncertainty about their future and their fate, and the fact that they feel they have no influence over what is happening to them. "That deal prevents a lot of people from seeking protection and help in Europe, which is why we've come out strongly against it," says Westphal. "But also colleagues on the ground are reporting a lot of people are still being held in unacceptable conditions. No adequate shelter and no medical care, especially when it comes to the special needs of children or pregnant women, and mental health. What we see in Europe, but not only Europe, is a tendency to have a refugee policy of which the main aim is to keep people out," says Westphal. He concludes "The best we can hope for from the World Health Summit is that it really throws a light on this immense contradiction that exists between what the EU and its member states say their refugee policy is, and the values they apparently represent, and the reality," says Westphal, "the actual damage to refugees' health, to the health of very vulnerable people that EU policy, such as the EU-Turkey deal, produce on a daily basis."