Refugee and Migrant Health


In this section, we will try to give information about the health of refugees and migrants that will be referred to ‘migrant health’ for the rest of the article. The scope of this articles:

  • Health problems of migrants who are also vulnerable groups,
  • Challenges in accessing health services,
  • Differences in maintaining health practices by different countries,
  • Discussing health data and statistics,
  • Assessing migrant health in terms of public health principles,
  • What is the humanity doing for them, including international organisations and humanitarian aid movements.

Migrants and refugees have health problems that is similar to the communities they live in. But in some cases, they are more vulnerable than society. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most frequent problems of new internally displaced persons (IDPs) are hypothermia, burns, gastrointestinal diseases, cardiovascular events, pregnancy and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension. Additionally women’s primary health problems are reproductive health, maternal-child health and violence. Although human trafficking and prostitution are not a health problem, they should be considered among the challenges migrant women face. In addition, there are psychosocial situations caused by security concerns, displacement and losses. These are the most important reasons why drug addiction, malnutrition and tendency to violence are seen in migrants. Children are prone to Gastro-intestinal System and Respiratory Tract infections due to such reasons as bad living conditions, disruptions in hygiene and restricting access to the health care system.

Public toilet in a residential area for migrant workers in Shigezhuang, Beijing 2015-Reuters/Jason Lee

Contrary to popular belief, there is no reliable systematic relationship between migrants and infectious diseases. Most migrants fleeing from a serious crisis come from a long way. Therefore, it leads to lack of hygiene, limited income, homelessness and unprotected migrants. Actually, infectious diseases are related to poverty. A person who is not able to get basic cleaning materials such as soap is susceptible to infectious diseases. These people are more prone to cases of flu, measles, hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS that can be cured with treatment or vaccination, especially for food and waterborne diseases. Outbreaks like these, seen in especially collective living spaces such as refugee camps. It is essential for migrants to have access to vaccination, adequate housing conditions and sanitation as well as access to safe water and primary health care.

The best solution to outbreaks is timely vaccination. In last two decades, migrants have had better vaccination coverage because of globally increased numbers of vaccinated person. Many of migrants already got vaccinated before the crisis. So, the WHO doesn’t offer vaccination at the border unless the origin country doesn’t have an endemic situation. Children especially not fully covered with vaccination, are suggested to be vaccinated because conflicts and disasters made them vulnerable groups as they possible face lack of health services. It is important to know the country’s routine vaccination schedule. By knowing the schedule, you may plan solutions differently.

Little girl vaccinated by OPA

Migrants are also more vulnerable in terms of non-communicable diseases (NCD). People who have the NCD need to more frequent or on going care, chronic medications or medical interventions. This is called chronic conditions. They may need intensive or palliative care because of complications of their chronic conditions which should be occured in their daily routines. Migrants’ chronic conditions need to be known and cared sufficiently. This is at least as important as vaccination. People who have chronic conditions need to be informed about their diseases and complications. Primary health care facilities have to design their standard operating procedures according to to this requirement.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the leader organization in the world which is working under United Nations (UN), established in 1951. Last 20 years, IOM provides assistance 70.000 human trafficking victims. Only 2014, this number is 6292 cases which is estimated to 1 in 7 cases all over the world. IOM has 60 health assessment offices which are give services about vaccination, primary health services, outpatient care, mental health and psychosocial support. Some 2016 statistics about this health offices are 2.4 million medical examination, 408.500 vaccination, 263.407 psychosocial support services, 350.756 border health examination. Also IOM executed 85 emergency health projects all over the world in 32 countries included Europe. You may see extra information in graphic 1 below.

Graphic 1. IOM Health Care Statistics in 2016

Please feel free to ask anything about migrants’ health. Also you can comment, what is your opinion? Do you see any migrants who are in need of health care? What do you think about your country’s migrant health policies? Your comments will guide us to write new posts. Thanks for reading.



  4. Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, IOM Key Statistics 2011–2014, Berlin