Refugee and migrant health at centre of discussions during 77th UN General Assembly

Robust global evidence on refugee and migrant health is essential to shape inclusive policies and actions. Yet, a lack of high-quality, comparable data across countries and over time regarding these populations challenges good policy development. This is according to the World Health Organization, the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the United Nations (UN) in New York, the International Organization for Migration, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the UN Foundation, the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the UN in New York, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who hosted a key event on the occasion of the Seventy-Seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

To secure political engagement on robust evidence for refugee and migrant health, a high-level event was held on 20 September 2022 in New York. The event gathered governments, international organizations, academia, and civil society organizations to take stock of the progress made globally, and to inform the way forward.

Migration and displacement are on the rise. From 1990 to 2020, the total number of international migrants increased from 153 million (2.9% of the global population) to 281 million (3.6% of the global population). In 2022, the number of forcibly displaced persons, within and across borders, has already surpassed 100 million.

Ensuring the right to health for all, including refugees and migrants, and achieving universal health coverage (UHC) requires inclusive health system policies, plans and interventions that are rooted in and address well-documented health needs.

This is of particular interest as key stakeholders endeavor to monitor and review international policy frameworks and agreements. These include the 2019 Political Declaration on UHC, to be discussed in 2023; the health-related Objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, reviewed last May during the International Migration Review Forum; the Global Compact on Refugees, to be discussed in 2023 at the Global Refugee Forum; and the 2019 WHO Global Action Plan “Promoting the health of refugees and migrants” that will be under consideration at May 2023 World Health Assembly.

Over the past years, countries and international organizations committed to take action to promote refugee and migrant health, including through strengthened data collection. However, as the newly launched WHO World report on the health of refugees and migrants demonstrates, critical gaps remain in data and health information systems regarding the health of these particularly at-risk populations. These gaps hamper the development and implementation of inclusive policies that are informed by sound evidence on their health status and needs, as well as their access to and utilization of health services in countries of origin, transit, and destination.

Policies that are informed by sound evidence are essential to effectively understand and address the factors that influence the health and well-being of people on the move and meet their health needs through effective care planning and delivery. To achieve that, data should be disaggregated by clearly defined migratory status, be systematically collected, and be representative of the target populations.

Bridging the data gap will enable decision-makers to understand and respond to public health challenges that occur within their borders and meet global objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

High-level Representatives of co-sponsoring organizations are quoted here:

“In July this year, WHO published the first World report on the health of refugees and migrants, providing a comprehensive overview of their health status, and highlighting good practices to safeguard their health. The report calls on governments and partners to take collective actions to promote and protect the health of refugees and migrants:

  • By addressing the root causes of disease, many of which lie outside the health domain;
  • By reorienting health systems to include integrated and inclusive health services and programmes for refugees and migrants;
  • By raising public awareness about the health of refugees and migrant health;
  • And by promoting high quality research and information and building capacity to support evidence-informed policies and actions in health and migration.

WHO is committed in working together with Member States and partners in implementing these actions, as dictated in our constitution.”

– Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO

“Luxembourg firmly believes in a health-for-all approach and therefore invests in equitable health policies that are evidence-based, leaving no one behind.”

– H.E. Mr Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Luxembourg

“As of March 2022, IOM observed that, out of 180 countries surveyed, access to COVID-19 vaccines to migrants in irregular situations was reported in only 56%, whereas efforts to include migrants in regular situations in vaccination rollouts were reported in 93% of the countries. Such evidence showed us that targeted efforts are needed to account for the needs of migrants in irregular situations, and to ensure that those with access on paper can receive the vaccines in practice.

Policy reviews and analyses of lessons learned are also critical to learn from experience and ensure that human mobility considerations are integrated in future pandemic preparedness and response. For instance, review of the impact of temporary measures – such as extension of resident permits, on COVID-19 outcomes can be valuable evidence for future health emergency response.”

– Ms Ugochi Daniels, Deputy Director-General, IOM

“We are living in a world where health systems face increasing challenges as the number of vulnerable people on the move – both voluntary and forced – expands across all regions. As the largest humanitarian network in the world, we are witnessing that migrants and refugees are facing unacceptable treatment and discrimination denying them the basic right to health. We must guarantee that all migrants – irrespective of their legal status – are treated with dignity and have effective access to essential health services, including mental and psychosocial services, free of stigma and discrimination.”

– Mr Francesco Rocca, President, IFRC

“Over the last couple years progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals has been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, conflict and other crises. In order to get back on track, we need unprecedented cooperation to achieve universal health coverage for all people. With more people on the move than ever before, the health of migrants and refugees is essential to reaching these goals.”

– Kate Dodson, Vice President for Global Health Strategy, UN Foundation

“Colombia is of the view that targeted policies need specific data and this is a necessity that Colombia has been addressing through the implementation of the Temporary Statute for the protection of Venezuelan Migrant Status.”

– H.E. Ambassador Sonia Pereira Portilla, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Colombia to the UN in New York

“A recent UNHCR survey showed that from 2019 to 2021, the percentage of refugees included in national health plans increased from 62% to 76%. While much remains to be done, this shows encouraging progress toward ensuring the inclusion of refugees into functioning national health systems and services enabling equitable access to healthcare. The availability of reliable data on refugees’ access to and utilization of health services as well as data on refugees’ health status is critical to monitor refugee well-being and plan for effective, evidence-based health interventions which support and strengthen national systems in refugee hosting countries.”

– Mr Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, UNHCR

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