A day in the life of a refugee: being and staying healthy

UNHCR Nigeria

Nigeria Refugee Crisis – A Journey of Survival (UNHCR, 2015)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Aluko Oluzabusayo Daniel, a student of medicine and surgery at Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. Mr Aluko is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA). The opinion expressed in this piece belongs to the writer and does not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

For the purpose of getting our terminologies right, lets understand that “all refugees are migrants but not all migrants are refugees”. They’ve been persecuted in their homeland, fleeing the crisis, and now, seeking asylum. A refugee isn’t your typical immigrant. Over the years, the world has had to deal with issues of migration which led to the formation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a programme mandated by the United Nations (UN) to protect and support refugees while assisting in their integration, resettlement or voluntary return to country of origin. However in 2015, crisis began all over the European continent as immigration numbers skyrocketed from unauthorized foreign migrants. These foreign migrants encompassed not only the vulnerable mass seeking refuge, but also some hostile agents.

The world has experienced the highest number of forcibly displaced people since World War 2-about 59.5million-and by 2015,over a million entered the European region and about 3700 died/went missing during the journey. The point is this is a global crisis and concerted efforts should be made globally, not just by the European Union. Addressing the migration crisis, the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo stressed the need for care and respect for the migrants as most of them were forced to leave their ancestral homes. He also advised the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to ensure the proper documentation of all migrants.

Analyses from the World Health Organization (WHO) reviews the health status and access of a refugee from their country of origin, to their transit country and finally in their destination country.

In Syria alone, over 7 million people are internally displaced with the unrest causing shortages of qualified medical personnel and other medical aid and support. Interventions made by the WHO and partners include provision of supplies for treatment of critical conditions like diabetes and heart disease; vaccination against diseases like measles, rubella and polio; prevention of vector borne diseases like malaria; delivery of integrated primary health care, including mental health services; deployment of surgical teams and supplies; support for mobile clinics and outreach services for reproductive, maternal and newborn child health; and strengthened disease surveillance and outbreak response. All these are considered very important for integration in their destination countries as well as it helps to prevent the spread of communicable diseases amongst the refugees during transit.

Refugees in transit are usually vulnerable because their finances are usually limited. Therefore, special care and assistance should be rendered at this level. In countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Greece hosting the refugees, the

WHO works with the governments to improve access to basic healthcare needs by setting up clinics especially for the refugees; providing medical supplies, equipment and fuel; training for frontline health workers; collecting and analysing health data to shape decision-making and providing Ministries of Health and other partners with technical guidance on key public health issues.

Finally, even with the unprecedented influx of refugees in the European region, the WHO supports the receiving countries by performing joint assessments with Ministries of Health to assess health-system capacity to manage large influxes of refugees and migrants; giving policy advice on contingency planning for the health sector; providing emergency medicines and supplies; providing maternal and child health care services; providing mental health and psychosocial care; training for health workers; technical and financial assistance for outbreak response and immunization campaigns; dissemination of health information and educational materials to refugees and health workers; and cross-border collaboration for improved data collection and analysis.

It is in fact now widely understood that being and staying healthy is not only part of migrants’ human rights, but also a fundamental precondition for them to work, be productive and contribute to the social and economic development of their communities, both of origin and destination. Therefore, coordinated efforts are needed to ensure that migrant health is addressed throughout the migration cycle, as are efforts to adapt and strengthen the resilience of local health systems in light of more diverse population health profiles. Addressing the health of migrants and affected local populations reduces long-term health and social costs, is good public health practice, facilitates integration and contributes to social and economic development. The healthier migrants are and remain the more efficient and balanced the future of our highly mobile and globalized society will be.

About the author

Aluko Oluwabusayo Daniel is a medical student currently studying at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is currently an executive member at the Drug Free Club; University of Lagos, Nigeria- affiliated to the FOUNDATION FOR A DRUG-FREE WORLD- a nonprofit public benefit corporation that empowers youth and adults with factual information about drugs so they can make informed decisions and live drug-free. Mr. Aluko is a certified first aider, hobbyist writer, debater and also an enthusiastic Arsenal football club supporter. 

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