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Migrants, refugees face high health risks

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European authorities are “struggling” to meet the needs of irregular migrants and refugees who are wrongly accused of spreading sickness among host communities, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, at the launch of its first report on the subject.

“The refugees and migrants that come to Europe, they do not bring any exotic diseases with them — any exotic communicable diseases,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

“The diseases that they might have there are all well-established diseases in Europe, and also we have very good prevention and control programs for these diseases,” she added. “This applies both for tuberculosis but also HIV/AIDS.”

Among other myths exposed as false by the report was the belief that more vulnerable people were arriving in Europe than was the case.

“International migrants make up about 10 per cent of the population in the European region, that is about 90 million,” Dr. Jakab noted. “Out of this, less than 7.4 per cent are refugees and in some of the European countries, citizens estimate that there are three or four times more migrants than there are in reality.”

Based on a review of more than 13,000 documents on the health of refugees and migrants in the WHO European region — one of six regions globally — the organization’s report provides a snapshot of their situation, at a time of rising global migration.

It shows that they are at higher risk of developing ill-health than host populations.

Citing UN migration agency (IOM) data indicating that more than 50,000 migrants and refugees have died in the Mediterranean area since the year 2000, the WHO report notes how women, young men, adolescents and unaccompanied minors are often “victims of deceptive recruitment and modern slavery.”

This has a grave physical and mental impact on the victims, it warns, adding that these this has “health repercussions” on their families and communities.

By way of an example, although displaced populations are at lower risk for all forms of cancer, except cervical cancer, the disease is “more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage,” the report says, putting them at greater risk of “considerably worse health outcomes than those of the host population”.

Diabetes also affects refugees and migrants more than host communities, the WHO report continues, with “higher incidence, prevalence and mortality rate,” especially among women.

Other illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, tend to affect refugees and migrants more than European host communities, the WHO study continues, noting that this applies particularly to unaccompanied minors, who also suffer higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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