WHO: Migrants to Europe are not disease vectors, but their immigration journeys and poor conditions on arrival damage their health
Migrants and refugees travelling to Europe generally are in good health. However, they risk falling ill during their journeys or at their destinations because of poor living conditions.
Those are the findings of a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 23 January. In the report the WHO refutes the widespread conviction that migrants spread disease, saying that the risk of new arrivals to Europe disseminating contagious diseases is very low.
The organization is appealing to European countries to provide health care to asylum-seekers on the basis of facts, not politics or prejudices, and points out that migrants and refugees do not pose a disproportionate burden to any health care system. "This report is a brilliant opportunity to dispel the untrue myths and erroneous perceptions [associated with refugees]," said Santino Severoni, who works on health and migration in the European region at the WHO.
"Health status has become very politicized and is being used as an instrument to increase people's fear. This report is based on solid data from our member states," Severoni said.
Asylum-seekers are prevented from accessing health care by language barriers and their fear of deportation, as some European states have made asylum absolutely impossible for them. In some European countries the number of people who are illegally on the territory is increasing, and they are further prevented from accessing basic health care by discrimination, ignorance of local conditions, and a lack of money, the WHO reports.
Migrants, according to the report, comprise 10 % (approximately 90.7 million people) of the European region's population. The WHO definition of Europe includes Armenia, the Central Asian states and Georgia.
Of that number of migrants, fewer than 7.4 % can be qualified as refugees. The inhabitants of some European countries incorrectly believe that three to four times more migrants live in their countries than actually do.
In 15 countries of the region, including Austria, Britain and Turkey, asylum-seekers have access to the same medical services as everybody else. In Germany or Hungary, however, asylum-seekers are not permitted to access urgent care.
The report also finds that migrants and refugees have fewer non-infectious diseases than domestic populations do upon arrival. If, however, the new arrivals end up living in poverty in the new country, then their risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke increases.
Lifestyle changes involving less physical movement and poor diet contribute to this more frequent occurrence of chronic diseases after living in Europe. Migrants and refugees, according to the report, suffer more frequently from anxiety and depression than domestic populations do.
Female migrants and refugees develop diabetes more frequently than domestic populations. Male migrants and refugees are more frequently injured at work than are men in the domestic population.
Unaccompanied minor migrants and refugees often experience sexual abuse. Reuters, in association with the WHO report, has also noted a study on the issue of migrant health published in the medical journal The Lancet in December 2018.
A team from University College London found refugees generally enjoy better health than the population in the richer countries to which they are heading. Populist allegations that migrants pose a health risk and burden health care systems are unsubstantiated myths aimed at inciting anti-immigrant sentiment, the study found.
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