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Migrants lack access to health care.
Date: 08/03/2010 - 09:48
MADRID (IDN) – Experts and decision-makers have followed with deep concern the Global Consultation on Migrant Health in Madrid. No wonder. Reports show that a high percentage of the one billion migrants worldwide lack access to health care, while their poverty and exploitative work conditions have worsened.
This situation impacts a large portion of world’s population. In fact if migrants worldwide were suddenly to come together as a community, they would form one of the world’s five most populous countries, said William Lacy Swing, director-general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The gross domestic product of 300 billion dollars of such a virtual country of migrants would surpass that of many developed countries, he informed in April 2009.
To address this worrying situation, around 100 officials and experts gathered in Madrid at the three-day (March 3-5) Global Consultation on Migrant Health, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the IOM and the government of Spain, which holds the rotating European Union presidency.
The facts lie on hand. While many of the nearly 214 million international migrants and 740 million internal migrants worldwide are healthy, others – particularly undocumented migrants, people forced to migrate due to natural or man-made disasters, and victims of trafficking – are often exploited and suffer physical and mental abuse.
The right to health applies to all migrants, irrespective of their migratory status, said Davide Mosca, Director of the Migration Health Department at IOM.
“We therefore need to define minimum standards of access to health care based on fundamental human rights and sound public health policies and practices,” Mosca added.
According to Daniel Lopez Acuna, director of Strategy, Policy and Resource Management at WHO’s Health Action in Crisis Cluster, “Migration is one of the main social determinants of health in the 21st Century. The health of migrants is a central element for social cohesion.”
“Access of migrants to health care has become of paramount importance to rights-based health systems and to public efforts aimed at reducing health inequities,” said Lopez.
Meanwhile, WHO has reported that many factors limit migrants’ access to health services, including “stigma, discrimination, social exclusion, language and cultural differences, separation from family and socio-cultural norms, and financial and administrative hurdles.”
The Madrid Consultation addressed these challenges and obstacles such as the ability to generate comparable global data on the health of migrants and to identify policies and legislation that advance their health.
In December 2009, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged member states “to provide health care to all migrant children as part of a child rights-based approach to migration laws, policies and programmes.”
In fact, on the occasion of the International Migrants Day on December 18, Pillay drew attention to the plight of an estimated 200 million migrants worldwide, many of whom are exposed to “violations of their basic rights and continue to be treated as commodities.”
Despite the increased efforts of the international community, including civil society, in promoting sound, equitable, humane and lawful conditions of migration, she said, the human rights of migrants often remain out of sight.
The UN estimates that by mid-2010 there will be approximately 214 million international migrants worldwide.
Migrant workers are often touted as modern-day heroes given the importance of their remittances to the economies of their home countries-an estimated 444 billion dollars in 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in December 2009.
“But migrants are also seen as threats – unfairly blamed for crime or changes in demographics and culture.”
According to HRW, government policies have typically failed to provide comprehensive protections to migrants, often discriminating on the basis of immigration status and national origin.
In fact, only 42 countries have ratified the International Convention on the Protection of all Migrant Workers and their Families, none of which include a major host country for migrants.
Meanwhile, the situation of migrant domestic workers and children is particularly worrisome.
All nations – whether of origin or destination – must implement gender-sensitive laws to ensure that international labour standards’ protections are extended to migrant domestic workers, the UN High Commissioner stressed.
“We also call on governments to curb abuses of recruitment agencies, enhance legal channels for migration and open up judicial mechanisms to victims of abuse, regardless of their immigration status,” she said.
With no international convention that is specific to domestic workers in existence, Pillay voiced hope that the protection gap can be closed.
The situation of migrant children, especially those who are unaccompanied and at risk of being smuggled or trafficked, is worrisome, she pointed out.
“We urge all States to integrate a child rights-based approach in migration laws, policies and programmes,” Pillay said, urging nations to provide access to education, health care and birth registration to all children.
“It is important to recall that all migrants are protected by human rights and labour standards,” she emphasised, with migrant children being equally entitled to all the rights granted under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also stated that migration touches upon every country, either as a place of origin, transit or destination, or as a combination of these.
Migration can be a positive and empowering experience for migrants themselves, and for both the home and host societies, he said, but for too many migrants, the reality is discrimination, exploitation and abuse.
“They are frequent targets of hate speech, harassment and violence. They are unfairly blamed for crime and economic difficulties, and are subjected to widespread discrimination.”
The global economic and financial crisis has exacerbated the vulnerability of migrants.
Many countries have tightened restrictions on migration and adopted stronger measures to combat irregular migration, according to the UN secretary general.
“Such measures can increase the risk of exploitation and abuse. They may also reinforce the impression that migrants are partly to blame for the effects of the crisis, fuelling anti-immigrant and xenophobic attitudes.”
Yet, even in places where unemployment is high, there is often a demand for foreign workers in particular sectors, where they provide the skills needed to propel economic growth.
Far from causing the crisis, migration is, in fact, part of the long-term solution, according to Ban Ki-moon.
At the international level, the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a comprehensive framework for the protection of migrants’ rights.
Ban Ki-moon encouraged governments “to protect the human rights of migrants, to put human rights at the heart of migration policy, and to raise awareness of the positive contributions migrants make to the economic, social and cultural lives of their host countries.”
Author: Baltasar Garrido
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