Reaffirming Migrants’ Right to Health

Migrants right to Health

(18 December -  International Migrants Day) Public Services International (PSI) and the European Public Service Union (EPSU) mark International Migrants Day by strongly reaffirming the right to healthcare for all migrants regardless of legal status.

The right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health is a fundamental right of every human being.

States have the obligation to protect, promote and defend this right. Commitments at the global and regional levels have been established in support of this right.

For example, the UN Global Compact on Migration emphasizes access to basic services for all migrants, which includes access to healthcare. The World Health Organization has the Global Action Plan on Promoting the Health of Refugees and Migrants, synchronised with the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly targeting universal health coverage (UHC). Furthermore, in February of this year, Member States, international organizations, civil society and various actors came together in Marrakech for the Third Global Consultation on the Health of Refugees and Migrants, where participants reaffirmed the right to health of every human being, without distinction of any kind, and outlined commitments for migrant and refugee health in the Rabat Declaration.

In the European region, the Council of Europe’s Social Charter (1961) and the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000) also provide for the right of everyone to access medical assistance and treatment together with the right to healthy and safe working conditions. Furthermore, the WHO European Region adopted last October an action plan for refugees and migrants’ health for the next seven years.

However, what happens at the national level is a different picture.

While many nationals on low income can also be excluded from full access to healthcare, undocumented migrants face specific health risks such as racism and violence or life‑threatening working conditions. They are more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and precarious housing, which in turn undermines their physical and psychological well‑being.

Restrictive migration and asylum policies have long caused hardships to undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including by limiting or depriving them access to public health services. Far-right political parties  are taking a step further by making migrants and refugees as the primary targets of populist racist propaganda.  Their proposal of obliging health and care workers to report undocumented migrants to authorities not only violates the human right to health of those in need, but also the professional code of ethics of the people delivering the care. Notwithstanding, the same health care services are also dependent on migrant health and care workers who fill in the staff shortages and keep health care delivery running.

Faced with an obligation to report, our healthcare unions would say, “We are nurses, not border police officers!’’

On International Migrants Day, PSI and EPSU, call on all governments and the EU institutions to reaffirm their obligation to protect, promote and defend the human right to health for all migrants regardless of status. Migration and asylum policies must be in line with the obligation to human rights. Inclusive, rights-based and non-discriminatory access to health care strongly require adequately funded, staffed and equipped public health services.

Firewalls must be established between public services, including health and social care, from immigration checks. This is essential in order to protect the integrity of public service delivery, preserve public health, promote inclusion and social cohesion.  Public service workers, such as health and care workers, must be allowed to deliver care in safe and decent working conditions and free from fear of sanctions when they deliver care to everyone.

Finally, in these troubled times of raging conflicts in many parts of the world that are driving forced migration, we call for peace and the cessation of hostilities especially in Gaza. Anywhere in the world, there cannot be right to health without peace.