Catherine A. O'Donnell
Migration is a reality of today’s world, with over one billion migrants worldwide. While many choose to move voluntarily, others are forced to migrate due to economic reasons or to flee war, conflict, or persecution. Such migrants often find themselves in precarious and marginalized situations—particularly asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented or irregular migrants. While often viewed as a single group, the legal status and entitlements of these three groups are different. This has implications for their ability to access health care; in addition, rights and entitlements vary across the 28 countries of the European Union and across different parts of national health systems. The lack of entitlement to receive care, including primary and secondary care, is a significant barrier for many asylum seekers and refugees and an even greater barrier for undocumented migrants. Other barriers include different health profiles and awareness of chronic disease risk amongst migrants; awareness of the organization of health systems in host countries; and language and communication. The use of professional interpreters can help to overcome communication barriers, but entitlement to free interpreting services is highly variable. Host countries need to consider how to ensure their health systems are “migrant-friendly”: solutions include provision of professional interpreters; ensuring that health care staff are aware of migrants’ rights to access health care; and increasing knowledge of migrants in relation to the organization of the health care system in their host country and how to access care, for example through the use of patient navigators. However, perhaps one of the greatest facilitators for migrants will be a more favorable political situation, which stops demonizing people who are forced to migrate due to situations out of their control.
Rachel Humphris and Hannah Bradby
The health status of refugees and asylum seekers varies significantly across the European region. Differences are attributed to the political nature of the legal categories of “asylum seeker” and “refugee”; the wide disparities in national health services; and the diversity in individual characteristics of this population including age, gender, socioeconomic background, country of origin, ethnicity, language proficiency, migration trajectory, and legal status. Refugees are considered to be at risk of being or becoming relatively “unhealthy migrants” compared to those migrating on the basis of economic motives, who are characterized by the “healthy migrant effect.” Refugees and asylum seekers are at risk to the drivers of declining health associated with settlement such as poor diet and housing. Restricted access to health care whether from legal, economic, cultural, or language barriers is another likely cause of declining health status. There is also evidence to suggest that the “embodiment” of the experience of exclusion and marginalization that refugee and asylum seekers face in countries of resettlement significantly drives decrements in the health status of this population.
Saida M. Abdi
The psychosocial well-being of migrant children has become an urgent issue facing many Western countries as the number of migrant children in the population increases rapidly and health-care systems struggle to support them. Often, these children arrive with extensive exposure to trauma and loss before facing additional stressors in the host country. Yet, these children do not access mental health support even when available due to multiple barriers. These barriers include cultural and linguistic barriers, the primacy of resettlement needs, and the stigma attached to mental health illness. In order to improve mental health services for migrant children, there is a need to move away from focusing on trauma and mental health symptoms and to look instead at migrant children’s well-being across multiple domains, including activities that can promote or diminish psychological well-being. Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugees (TST-R) is an example of an approach that has succeeded in overcoming these barriers by adopting a culturally relevant and comprehensive approach to mental health care.