Immigrant Health in the Context of Basic Human Rights

When we look back at the history, people have always been searching for justice. People have tried to apply and perpetuate this justice within the framework of legal texts and ethical principles. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), The European Convention on Human Rights (1965), the declaration of Fundamental Rights of the European Union can be cited as an example of this quest. The highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. “Health Rights” as a concept; is in the framework of human rights one of the quests for justice. At the beginning of the millennium, migration – the movement of people massively from one area to another for varying periods of time – has become more apparent than ever before. It is likely that people will continue to be eradicated and displaced with increasing political instability and stagnation of economic growth in many countries due to political, environmental and economic reasons. This will become a big public health problem in the 21st century. The fundamental rights that are protected by international and local laws are of particular importance to some groups of the world. Forcibly displaced persons, such as asylum-seekers, refugees, stateless persons, are among the leaders of this group. United Nations Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) defines refugee as “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”. With this definition, the concept of a refugee was born and the protection of human rights has been put forward. According to UNHCR 2017 current data, approximately 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced in the world. 40 million people have been internally
displaced people (IDPs) and 3.1 million have been asylum seekers. 25.4 million people have gained refugee status. You may see extra information in graphic 1 below.

Graphic 1. UNHCR Forcibly Displaced People Worldwide in 2017.

In addition to the 1951 Geneva Convention signed by 148 countries around the world, refugee status has gained a distinct meaning by the 1967 Protocol and has attempted to protect human fundamental rights in the international arena. In the countries of Congo, Madagascar, Monaco and Turkey, there has been a geographical limitation for refugees. Countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal are among the countries which do not sign this convention. This has made it difficult to reach the basic rights of refugees.
Refugees overwhelmingly originate in less developed nations. War-torn Syria continued to be the country from which more refugees have originated than any other. By the end of 2017, a total of 6.3 million people from Syria were classed as refugees. The majority of these refugees (3.4 million) from Syria were hosted in Turkey – the country that hosts more refugees than any other globally – although Syrian refugees have been granted asylum in 129 countries worldwide, including large numbers in Lebanon, Jordan, Germany, and Iraq.
Afghanistan is the source of the second-largest refugee population globally with 2.6 million people have fled by the end of 2017, with South Sudan – the country with the biggest increase in 2017 – accountable for the third-largest with 2.4 million.
The world’s refugee population overwhelmingly hails from its least developed nations with nine of the ten most common countries of origin falling into this category. Most refugees also mainly hosted by developing nations. Some 85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted in countries in developing regions. One-third of refugees are hosted in the world’s least developed countries.

Graphic 2. UNHCR Major source and host countries of refugees in ends of 2016 and 2017.

South Sudan and Myanmar crises cause new refugee numbers to grow. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 31 percent of the global refugee population, overtaking Europe last year. After South Sudan, the Syrian conflict continued to cause new refugee registrations, especially in Turkey. The third-largest group of new refugees originated from Myanmar. Due to the outbreak of violence in Rakhine State at the end of August 2017, 655,500 Royhinga people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh, where they were granted temporary protection. Most of the population are women and children.

Graphic 3. UNHCR Where new refugees found asylum in 2017.

With the migration incident, access to basic rights such as housing, nutrition, health,
education has been restricted. Problems related to nutrition, difficulties in access to health services and social services, violence, etc. They were defenseless for many reasons. According to the literature and international reports, primarily health-related problems of asylum seekers and refugees are:
• Nutritional deficiencies
• Growth and development retardation in children
• Anemia
• Diarrhea, measles, malaria, respiratory infections, etc. infectious diseases
• Physical violence and related injuries
• Sexual abuse
• Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS
• Unwanted pregnancies, risky pregnancies
• Miscarriages, birth complications
• Chronic diseases and complications
• Depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. psychic
• Dental health problems

Although health right of refugees is sought to be protected by international law, health services varied to refugees from country to country. In addition, governments, human rights advocates, international organizations and NGOs are trying to be standardized. This has caused forcibly displacement people can’t to receive health services on equal terms. At the same time, in countries that did not sign the 1951 Geneva Convention, access to services is impossible for refugees to have no legal basis. Mindful of these concerns, the World Health Organization (WHO) brought together representatives of the following concerned international organizations during 2001-2003 to explore the issues and challenges of addressing health and migration from a human rights perspective. These organizations recognize that health issues for migrant populations represent a serious and important public health and human rights concern:
– the Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI),
– December 18,
– the Instituto Mario Negri (IMN),
– the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC),
– the International Centre for Migration and Health (ICMH),
– the International Labour Office (ILO),
– International Organization for Migration (IOM),
– the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
– the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In our next articles, we will talk about the health policies applied to immigrants in the USA,Turkey and Thailand. You can ask questions and contribute to the topics interested in.
Pleasant readings.


1. UNHCR. “GLOBAL TRENDS: Forced Displacement in 2017”.
2. UNHCR. “States Parties to the
1951 Convention Relating to the status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol”.
3. WHO. Health & Human Rights Publication Series, Issue No.4, December 2003.
4. Karadağ Ö. and Altıntaş K. H. “Refugees and health”, TAF Preventive Medicine
Bulletin, page 55-62, 2010.

Önceki İçerikRefugee and Migrant Health
Sonraki İçerikCanan
Dr. Aysenur Karaca
Ayşenur Karaca, was born in 1994, Ordu. She graduated from Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University Faculty of Medicine in 2020 and worked as a general practitioner at Ünye Public Hospital. She is working as an assistant doctor in the field of child health and disease at Ankara City Hospital. She conducts voluntary work in Young Doctors Worldwide. She is studying on migration research at Hayat Health and Social Services Foundation. Particularly, her special interests are in recent history migrations to Anatolia and the health problems of refugee camps. She publishes articles in the Konak Journal of Health and Social Sciences in these areas.