The ongoing global health crisis has changed life for all of us – but what if you weren’t able to access healthcare, even beyond treatment for COVID-19? Unfortunately, for many people displaced from their places of living, the ability to access healthcare is not always guaranteed or easy. In turn, physical or mental ailments can become worsened throughout the process of fleeing, and remain untreated once settled somewhere else. While refugees have taken a “vital role” and source of help in managing the COVID-19 pandemic through their expertise and work in numerous essential fields, national healthcare systems oftentimes leave this population unprotected. For some citizens, routine checkups are covered by national healthcare systems – providing access to annual checkups, dental care, and psychological support under partial or full coverage. Flagship organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Health Organization have both worked towards increasing access to healthcare for refugees; certainly, smaller and local organizations have done the same. In this way, the goal is to extend health coverage for all who need it. From these efforts, recent improvements have been made for the right to access crucial resources for the safeguarding of refugee’s physical, mental and psychological health.
Barriers towards accessing healthcare have been widely studied, with refugees encountering disproportionate levels of difficulties compared to host 1populations. Mobile populations, displaced or not, are oftentimes overlooked by national healthcare systems and consequently, their health can worsen. This oversight becomes more apparent the more complex the migrant’s journey becomes, with communication lacking between origin, host, and transit countries. Numerous problem areas have been identified when it comes to the health needs which were overlooked, including psychological health, nutrition, vaccination records, dental records, and optical records. One recent study surveying different EU countries found that refugees face “legal barriers… [unfavorable] economic situation… and/or may lack the language and cultural competency to navigate the healthcare systems”. These complex challenges and interactions with the healthcare system require well-developed and multidimensional solutions. From this, it can be seen that access to healthcare is already tough for refugees, and becomes even tougher in times of a global health crisis.
Fortunately, access to healthcare has become easier in some places for asylum-seekers and refugees. For example, in the United States of America, displaced persons re-located in Oregon have access to “expanded protections and benefits” with even more possibilities on the horizon. This expansion falls in line with the classification of Oregon as a “sanctuary state” which offers more protection towards populations who are vulnerable due to their migration status, signaling the real impact of labels such as ‘sanctuary city’ and other demarcations of safe spaces. Importantly, the extension of welfare needs to be reimagined in the public eye. Instead of viewing the expansion of welfare programs as a drain on the taxpayer, Anna Tischenko, a case manager working in the healthcare system with a refugee background, writes that when refugees are given a chance “They have much to give in return. If provided the opportunity, they will help revitalize communities like our own”. People facing displacement have a right to healthcare despite falling outside of traditional nation-state limits of welfare. However, by extending their resources for care, communities become better; when we care for an outsider, we care for ourselves.
Contemporary Content Writer, Act for Displaced
Xander Creed is a current Master’s student in Development Studies & Migration Studies, passionate about research that centers on the human experience and body as a means for advocacy.