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HEALTH

Migrants need better access to health care in Europe: WHO

Europe must guarantee migrants better access to medical care, the World Health Organization urged Monday, and highlighted massive disparities in access to health services in different countries.

Migrants need better access to health care in Europe: WHO
File photo: Morten Stricker/Ritzau Scanpix

“To improve their (migrants') health, it is important to fill the gap for access to basic care,” Santino Severoni, the head of the WHO's Migration and Health Programme, told AFP. The organization’s regional office for Europe is located in Copenhagen.

In the WHO's Europe region, which covers 53 countries, migrants represent almost 10 percent of the population, or 90.7 million of 920 million inhabitants.

But the proportion varies widely from country to country — migrants account for 45 percent of Malta's population compared to just two percent in Albania, for example.

Depending on the country and migrants' status, they may enjoy full access to the health care system or none at all.

In 15 European countries, including Austria, Turkey, and Britain, asylum seekers have access to the same care as the local population, whereas in Germany and Hungary they are only entitled to emergency care.

“People, and some governments, have been reacting emotionally when it comes to newcomers because of the lack of information and data,” Severoni said.

Contrary to what some may believe, “there is a very low risk… of transmitting communicable disease from the refugee and migrant population to the host population,” he said.

The bigger health risk is for migrants themselves, with a large share of HIV-positive migrants contracting the disease only after arriving in Europe, said Severoni.

New arrivals are also more likely to develop chronic illnesses as a result of their new lifestyle — less physical activity and too much fast food — and the poverty conditions some encounter.

Cancer tends to be diagnosed at a later stage among migrants, which can make treatment more difficult, the report said, while migrant children are at greater risk of being overweight and having psychological problems than peers in their host country.

Refugees and migrants are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, added the WHO.

This was due to a combination of risk factors, including the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among refugees who endured treacherous journeys, as well as lengthy asylum application processes and difficult socio-economic conditions, such as unemployment, poverty and isolation.

Studies estimate that 40 percent of refugees in the WHO's European region who suffer from PTSD also suffer from depression, the report said.

The stigma of mental illness in these groups tends to influence their decision to seek help, which may lead to higher levels of hospitalisation.

READ ALSO: Nordic and Mediterranean countries can make more of healthy cuisine: WHO

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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