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date: 15 December 2017

Health Care Access for Migrants in Europe

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. Please check back later for the full article.

Migration is a reality of today’s world, with over 1 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. This is especially true of asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented or irregular migrants. While often viewed as a single population, the legal status and entitlements of these three groups are distinct. Differences between these peoples affect access to health care with rights and entitlements varying across the 28 countries of the European Union as well as 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 among 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 inconsistent. Host countries need to consider how to ensure that their health systems are “migrant-friendly.” Solutions include provision of professional interpreters; ensuring that health care staff are aware of migrants’ rights to health care access; 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. Perhaps the greatest facilitator for migrants’ improved health care access would be a reduction of the stigma that demonizes those who are forced to migrate due to political situations outside of their control.