Restrictive migration policies contributing to poor migrant health in high-income countries

7th March 2019, issued by The Lancet

Too often non-health-related policies leave migrants facing worse health situations, and governments must honour their humanitarian obligations to provide health for all.

Restrictive entry and integration policies are having an adverse effect on the health of migrants in high-income countries, according to the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of general migration policies on migrant health, published in The Lancet Global Health journal.

The systematic review and meta-analysis, synthesising all the available evidence from the scientific literature, finds that international migrants facing anti-immigrant policies such as temporary visa status, detention, and reduced access to welfare are less likely to use general health services (hindering individual and public health), and are at greater risk of poor mental health and dying from any cause compared with native populations.

The authors say that efforts to improve the health of migrants would benefit from adopting a ‘Health in All Policies’ perspective, which considers the health effects of all migrant-orientated policies, and embracing a human-rights framework that emphasises the rights of migrants under international law. 

“The steady rise in international migration from an estimated 155 million people in 2000 to 258 million in 2017 has been met with increasingly hostile policy responses across the world—putting migrants at risk of ill-health and psychological damage, and profoundly undermining their human rights”, says Dr Sol Pía Juárez from Stockholm University in Sweden, who led the research alongside Prof Mikael Rostila, also of Stockholm University, and Professor Vittal Katikireddi, from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow.

Co-author Dr Andrea Dunlavy adds: “More inclusive approaches to support the integration of migrants into their host societies is likely to have a positive effect on migrants’ health and life opportunities, as well as benefiting local populations. While international law supports improving the health of migrants, its enforcement is weak, and countries must be held to account. Without sustained and strong political action, healthy migration policies will not be achieved, to the detriment of all.”

First published: 28 February 2019

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