Refugees and other migrants receive a lower standard of health care in comparison to local residents, a new WHO report has found. Migrants face additional hurdles including language, economic and legal barriers, as well as unequal access to information and services.
Millions of refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations worldwide face poorer health outcomes than the host populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report released on Wednesday, July 20.
Vulnerable migrants, such as low-skilled migrant workers, receive lower quality health services, especially where living and working conditions are sub-standard, the report found.
"Today there are some 1 billion migrants globally, about one in eight people," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. The figure included internal migrants, people who moved from their homes but remained within the country.
"The experience of migration is a key determinant of health and well-being, and refugees and migrants remain among the most vulnerable and neglected members of many societies," he added.
Migrants face additional socio-economic barriers
Citing a review of global literature, the WHO said migrants on average had a poorer level of health, and that this was not due to being inherently less healthy than the local population. Rather, the impact of various "suboptimal health determinants" – such as access to services – compounded with socio-economic barriers.
Migrants, therefore, face an additional set of hurdles when navigating the health system in comparison to locals. They include but are not limited to: precarious legal status; discrimination; social, cultural, linguistic, administrative and financial barriers; lack of information about health entitlements; lack of living space; low health literacy; and fear of detention and deportation.
Migrants more likely to experience work-place injury
The WHO also evaluated a meta-analysis of over 17 million participants from 16 countries. The organization found that, compared with non-migrant workers, migrant workers were more likely to suffer from an injury on the job.
The WHO added that evidence showed "a significant number" of migrant workers worldwide "are engaged in dirty, dangerous, and demanding jobs and are at greater risk of occupational accidents, injuries, and work-related health problems than their non-migrant counterparts." This is in part due to working with hazardous substances.
In the report, the WHO urged host countries to invest more in the health sector to improve healthcare for migrants.
"It is imperative that we do more on refugees and migrants' health, but if we want to change the status quo, we need urgent investments to improve the quality, relevance and completeness of health data on refugees and migrants," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's Deputy Director-General. Jakab also stressed the need for countries to collect more comprehensive data on population health.