For decades, researchers have been puzzled by the finding that despite low socioeconomic status, fewer social mobility opportunities, and access barriers to health care, some migrant groups appear to experience lower mortality than the majority population of the respective host country (and possibly also of the country of origin). This phenomenon has been acknowledged as a paradox, and in turn, researchers attempted to explain this paradox through theoretical interpretations, innovative research designs, and methodological speculations. Specific focus on the salmon effect/bias and the convergence theory may help characterize the past and current tendencies in migrant health research to explain the paradox of healthy migrants: the first examines whether the paradox reveals a real effect or is a reflection of methodological error, and the second suggests that even if migrants indeed have a mortality advantage, it may soon disappear due to acculturation. These discussions should encompass mental health in addition to physical health. It is impossible to forecast the future trajectories of migration patterns and equally impossible to always accurately predict the physical and mental health outcomes migrants/refugees who cannot return to the country of origin in times of war, political conflict, and severe climate change. However, following individuals on their path to becoming acculturated to new societies will not only enrich our understanding of the relationship between migration and health but also contribute to the acculturation process by generating advocacy for inclusive health care.
Yudit Namer and Oliver Razum
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have become the first cause of morbidity and mortality around the world. These have been targeted by most governments because they are associated with well-known risk factors and modifiable behaviors. Migrants present, as any population subgroup, peculiarities with regard to NCDs and, more relevantly, need specific information on associated risk factors to appropriately target policies and interventions. The country of origin, assimilation process, and many other migrant health aspects well studied in the literature can be related to migrants’ health risk factors. In most countries, existing sources of information are not sufficient or should be revised, and new sources of data should be found. Existing survey systems can meet organizational difficulties in changing their questionnaires; moreover, the number of changes in the adopted questionnaire should be limited for the sake of brevity to avoid excessive burden on respondents. Nevertheless, a limited number of additional variables can offer a lot of information on migrant health. Migrant status, country of origin, time of arrival should be included in any survey concerned about migrant health. These, along with information on other Social Determinants of Health and access to health services, can offer fundamental information to better understand migrants’ health and its evolution as they live in their host countries. Migrants are often characterized by a better health status, in comparison with the native population, which typically is lost over the years. Public health and health promotion could have a relevant role in modifying, for the better, this evolution, but this action must be supported by timely and reliable information.
Catherine A. O'Donnell
Migration is a reality of today’s world, with over one billion migrants worldwide. While many choose to move voluntarily, others are forced to migrate due to economic reasons or to flee war, conflict, or persecution. Such migrants often find themselves in precarious and marginalized situations—particularly asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented or irregular migrants. While often viewed as a single group, the legal status and entitlements of these three groups are different. This has implications for their ability to access health care; in addition, rights and entitlements vary across the 28 countries of the European Union and across different parts of national health systems. The lack of entitlement to receive care, including primary and secondary care, is a significant barrier for many asylum seekers and refugees and an even greater barrier for undocumented migrants. Other barriers include different health profiles and awareness of chronic disease risk amongst migrants; awareness of the organization of health systems in host countries; and language and communication. The use of professional interpreters can help to overcome communication barriers, but entitlement to free interpreting services is highly variable. Host countries need to consider how to ensure their health systems are “migrant-friendly”: solutions include provision of professional interpreters; ensuring that health care staff are aware of migrants’ rights to access health care; and increasing knowledge of migrants in relation to the organization of the health care system in their host country and how to access care, for example through the use of patient navigators. However, perhaps one of the greatest facilitators for migrants will be a more favorable political situation, which stops demonizing people who are forced to migrate due to situations out of their control.
Silvia Declich, Maria Grazia Dente, Christina Greenaway, and Francesco Castelli
Increasing human mobility, of which migration is a component, is a key driver of microorganism circulation. Migration is a minor component of all human mobility, with most movement due to international tourism, travel for work, business, or study, and military operations abroad. Migration flows from southern low-income countries to the industrialized north have steadily increased as a consequences of a complex array of distal and proximal factors such as economic inequality, climate change, political turbulence, war and persecution, and family reunification. This has raised concerns about the potential transmission and reintroduction of microorganisms and infectious diseases into high-income host countries from migrants with asymptomatic infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, viral hepatitis, malaria, Chagas disease, and arboviral infections. These factors contribute to the mounting hostile attitude sometimes observed in receiving countries and deserve careful scientific assessment to inform policies and interventions. The available evidence does not support the hypothesis that migrants constitute a relevant infectious public health risk for the local population, although careful epidemiological surveillance is mandatory, especially where competent vectors for specific infection are present in the destination area, where certain diseases may potentially be introduced or reintroduced. The greatest risk of infectious diseases is to the migrants themselves due to increased risk of exposure within their own communities and from the burden of undetected and untreated infections caused by marginalization and poor living conditions. The health conditions vary at the different stages of settlement and interventions need to be tailored accordingly. In the early arrival phase the main health concerns are psychological, traumatic, and chronic conditions. Crowded unhygienic living conditions often experienced by migrants in reception camps coupled with low vaccination rate may facilitate the transmission of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections or vaccine-preventable diseases. After resettlement, undetected infections and the lack of access to health care due to social marginalization may lead to the reactivation or progression of infections such as tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, HIV, and chronic helminthiasis. These outcomes could be prevented through screening and treatment and would benefit both migrants and the host populations. Pretravel interventions that increase the awareness of the possible infectious risks in their countries of origin are critical to decrease travel-related infection among visiting friends and relatives, especially those traveling with children. Migrant-friendly health systems that ensure prompt access to diagnosis and treatment, regardless of legal status, are the best interventions to limit the burden and transmission of infections in this population.
There are 1 billion migrants in the world today, which means that one in seven of the world’s population are migrants. Of these, 272 million are international migrants and 763 million are internal migrants. It is estimated that around 70 million of the world’s migrants, both internal and international, have been forcibly displaced. Many things force people to leave their homes in search of a better future: war, poverty, persecution, climate change, desertification, urbanization, globalization, inequality, and lack of job prospects. Migrants remain among the most vulnerable members of society even when their living conditions improve after migration. Migrant women and children are a particularly vulnerable group and have a great need for basic and preventive health care. Many refugees and migrants are young and in good health, but hard living conditions and difficulty accessing basic health care can affect their state of health. Many of them face inhuman journeys during migration and live in refugee camps with very low standards of hygiene; when they find a job, they are often exploited. All these things can also affect their mental health. Migrants struggle with similar challenges as other marginalized groups when it comes to access to health care, but they face the additional barriers of mobility, language barriers, cultural differences, lack of familiarity with local health care services, and limited eligibility for publicly and privately funded health care. Governments should provide affordable preventive and basic health care to refugees and migrants not only because it is a human right but also because in the long term it can lower the costs of the whole health care system.
Emily Q. Ahonen
Occupational health and safety concerns classically encompass conditions and hazards in workplaces which, with sufficient exposure, can lead to injury, distress, illness, or death. The ways in which work is organized and the arrangements under which people are employed have also been linked to worker health. Migrants are people who cross borders away from their usual place of residence, and about one in seven people worldwide is a migrant. Terms like “immigrant” and “emigrant” refer to the direction of that movement relative to the stance of the speaker. Any person who might be classified as a migrant and who works or seeks to work is an immigrant worker and may face challenges to safety, health, and well-being related to the work he or she does. The economic, legal, and social circumstances of migrant workers can place them into employment and working conditions that endanger their safety, health, or well-being. While action in support of migrant worker health must be based on systematic understanding of these individuals’ needs, full understanding the possible dangers to migrant worker health is limited by conceptual and practical challenges to public health surveillance and research about migrant workers. Furthermore, intervention in support of migrant worker health must balance tensions between high-risk and population-based approaches and need to address the broader, structural circumstances that pattern the health-related experiences of migrant workers. Considering the relationships between work and health that include but go beyond workplace hazards and occupational injury, and engaging with the ways in which structural influences act on health through work, are complex endeavors. Without more critically engaging with these issues, however, there is a risk of undermining the effectiveness of efforts to improve the lot of migrant workers by “othering” the workers or by failing to focus on what is causing the occupational safety and health concern in the first place—the characteristics of the work people do. Action in support of migrant workers should therefore aim to ameliorate structural factors that place migrants into disadvantageous conditions while working to improve conditions for all workers.
Ursula Trummer, Michela Martini, and Sabelo Mbokazi
Irregular migrants belong to the most vulnerable migrant groups. Health threats associated with an irregular status are high, and access to health services is severely restricted globally. Concerning migration aspects, a common public narrative for Europe and Africa is that Africa is sending thousands of migrants to embark on an irregular life-threatening journey of migration to Europe every year. Although this is a well documented reality, it is by far not the most important migration pattern in terms of numbers and health threats when looking at Africa. It can be argued that, on the contrary, Africa is mainly characterized by south-to-south migration both for economic and humanitarian reasons, with African nation-states like Uganda being among the top three nations worldwide hosting refugees. In addition, main migration routes from Africa do not target Europe but rather other regions like the Gulf countries. Existing dialogue between Europe and Africa has great potential to fast track and develop joint policies and strategies for meaningful, affordable legal migration patterns and access to the human right to health for irregular migrants. First, a change of the rhetoric around irregular migration from Africa mainly directed toward Europe is needed. Second, existing policies and strategies regarding the health of irregular migrants need to be examined and evaluated. Within all the huge differences concerning public health systems and capacities in Europe and Africa, a common strategy to discourage irregular migration seems to be restricting the access of irregular migrants to their human right to health through national regulations. This has paradoxically created a simultaneous inclusion on grounds of human rights regulations and exclusion on grounds of national restrictions, with “functional ignorance” (health care organizations and personnel ignore the lack of residence permits and its legal implications) and “structural compensation” (facilities run by nongovernmental organizations take over public health responsibilities and health care provision) as key features. Such strategies put a lot of strain on health care providers and irregular migrants and should not be considered as a sustainable solution. Instead, action should be taken to overcome the paradox of contradictory migration and health policies by means of firewalls and structural mechanisms. An important step in this direction can be to rethink cooperation between Europe and Africa in this domain, starting with the development of a joint evidence base relevant for Europe and Africa in an interdisciplinary approach and with European and African scholars that can support proactive policy and strategy development to safeguard the human right to health for irregular migrants together with good migration governance.
Saida M. Abdi
The psychosocial well-being of migrant children has become an urgent issue facing many Western countries as the number of migrant children in the population increases rapidly and health-care systems struggle to support them. Often, these children arrive with extensive exposure to trauma and loss before facing additional stressors in the host country. Yet, these children do not access mental health support even when available due to multiple barriers. These barriers include cultural and linguistic barriers, the primacy of resettlement needs, and the stigma attached to mental health illness. In order to improve mental health services for migrant children, there is a need to move away from focusing on trauma and mental health symptoms and to look instead at migrant children’s well-being across multiple domains, including activities that can promote or diminish psychological well-being. Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugees (TST-R) is an example of an approach that has succeeded in overcoming these barriers by adopting a culturally relevant and comprehensive approach to mental health care.