EU: Right to healthcare not guaranteed in practice

11/10/2011
Irregular migrants often unable to access minimum healthcare services, reports EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

Today the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) presents its report on access to healthcare for irregular migrants in the EU. Two to four million migrants in Europe live in an ‘irregular' situation. They often face increased risk to their health from poor living and working conditions. At the same time their access to healthcare is limited due to legal, economic and practical obstacles. Excluding migrants in an irregular situation from healthcare endangers their lives and well-being, increases the cost of future emergency treatment and, when infectious diseases go untreated, poses a health risk to the wider community.

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum: "The right to healthcare is guaranteed under international and European human rights law. These standards apply to everyone regardless of their migration status. Although this does not oblige EU Member States to guarantee access to all health services on an equal footing with citizens it does impose some minimum requirements. At the very least, this should include access to necessary medical care for all, equal access to healthcare for children, and antenatal and postnatal healthcare for mothers."

All 10 EU Member States covered in the study grant migrants in an irregular situation access to emergency healthcare. However, the report identifies several obstacles to accessing healthcare:

  • Irregular migrants - who are not usually permitted to work - may have to pay for medical care, which is available cost-free to nationals. Only five Member States offer emergency care free of charge to irregular migrants if they cannot afford it (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain). Only four Member States allow them access to treatment beyond emergency healthcare cost-free or at a reduced rate (Belgium, France, Italy and Spain).
  • The cost barrier also affects vulnerable groups: All the Member States studied allow pregnant women access to treatment for delivery, but in some countries payment may be required. Full cost-free access to antenatal and postnatal care is granted in four Member States (Belgium, France, Greece and Italy). In only two of the Member States studied are migrant children in an irregular situation entitled by law to receive cost-free healthcare on the same basis as nationals (Spain and Greece).
  • The risk of possible deportation deters irregular migrants from seeking even emergency healthcare. In some EU Member States, a policy or practice exists of reporting irregular migrants to immigration authorities when they access healthcare.
  • Administrative requirements can make it difficult for migrants in an irregular situation to access health care even if, in theory, it is available cost-free. For example, the need to produce proof of a fixed residence.

Video interview with FRA Programme Manager Ludovica Banfi on the new report:

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The report suggests several ways forward:

  • Access to necessary healthcare should be made available to irregular migrants on the same basis as nationals. This should include the same rules relating to payment of fees and exemption from payments. Administrative pre-conditions, such as producing proof of residence, should be reviewed.
  • Healthcare authorities should not be placed under a duty to report migrants in an irregular situation to immigration authorities, and such practices should be discontinued.
  • Pregnant women in an irregular situation should have access to cost-free healthcare services for antenatal and postnatal care, and for delivery.
  • Children in an irregular situation should have the same access to healthcare as citizens, including immunisations.
  • Where access to healthcare exists, awareness should be raised about the rights of irregular migrants among medical staff and institutions and irregular migrants themselves.
  • Support should be given to non-governmental organisations, as these play an important role in facilitating access to healthcare for irregular migrants.

Find the full report here: 'Migrants in an irregular situation: access to healthcare in 10 European Union Member States'

Notes to the editors:

  • This report relates specifically to migrants in an irregular situation. This refers to individuals who are not nationals of an EU Member State and are present in an EU Member State without a visa or a residence permit.
  • The research was carried out in 21 cities in 10 EU Member States: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden. These were chosen in order to reflect a cross-section of: geographic regions; healthcare systems; and legal provisions regulating access to healthcare for irregular migrants across the EU. The report is based on in-depth interviews with irregular migrants, public authorities, healthcare staff and civil society organisations.
  • The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is mandated to provide evidence-based advice to EU and national decision makers, thereby contributing to more informed, solidly framed and contextualised debates and policies on fundamental rights.

For further information please contact the FRA Media Team:
E-mail: media@fra.europa.eu
Tel.: +43 1 580 30 642

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