How a Lottery Can Kill You: Migrants' Sexual Health in Europe

Posted July 29, 2012 from France

One month ago, I completed a 4-months internship working on sexual and reproductive health of migrants in Europe. Although I've studied one and a half year European affairs, which was supposed to enlighten me on all the important topics my continent has to face, I was not prepared to deal with such issues.

I was not naive enough to think that Europe is a golden place for migrants' rights to be respected. On the contrary, I was very much aware of difficulties met by people coming here for a better life throughout the European Union (EU) and particularly my country, France. But I did not know much about how different migrant populations may access or not sexual and reproductive health servics in EU countries.

The EU was and is still being built for many reasons, one of them being the harmonization of standards of living for all its peoples. This is supposed to be a core value of today's politics. European institutions have repeatedly claimed that human rights must be guaranteed in the same way on our territories to all human beings, including migrants, whether they are documented or not. However, studying this topic for four months proved me how much your situation can change from one country to another, and how much your legal status impacts the way your right to health is protected.

If you are a refugee, an asylum seeker, a documented worker or an undocumented migrant, you may receive a minimum allowance for health services – or not. If you are a woman, you may access free delivery – or not. You may have the right to enter pre- and post-natal care – or not. If you have been raped or suffered female genital mutilation in your country of origin, you might receive some help – or not. You might get the possibility to be tested for HIV for free – or not. If you're HIV-positive, you might receive treatment – or not. If you're a male or female sex worker, you might escape compulsory HIV-testin – or not. You might be assisted by an interpreter while visiting a practitioner – or not. You might be able to benefit from a state aid – or not. And so on, and so on.

Welcome to the great health lottery of the EU.

At the same time, in different EU countries, some politicians explain to you that migrants are a strain on our health systems. They come to benefit from our great welfare states, and they do not want to contribute. And they dare to bring diseases. Basically, they leave their countries just for the fun of messing up with our health. If, by chance, one of those politicians recognize that most migrants had to face terrible situations, they get out of the argument by a « Well, France [or Germany/UK/Italy/Sweden/whatever] cannot take care of the whole world's misery ! ».

In France's first round of latest presidential election (April 22nd 2012), the extreme right managed to get 20% of votes with such discourses. Nowhere you could read testimonies of health professionals explaining how hard it is for migrants to get treatment. In academic studies I read for my internship report, one of those professionals said that migrants come only at the hospital to die. Another said that migrants are so afraid of this sort of public opinion that they do not dare to access health systems even when they are entitled to. And when they do, they never visit sexual and reproductive health care, because this is not considered « basic health ».

I get even angrier than before when I hear all those speeches about the threats of migration. Even economically speaking, healing people in emergency situations is more expensive than building preventive action. Excluding migrants – all migrants – from our health systems is just plain stupid. It does not bring anything to us, citizens. If the health system cannot bear those costs, then we have to change it.

Adaptation has never killed anyone. Preventing people from entering health services, yes.

Comments 2

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  • Kim Crane
    Jul 30, 2012
    Jul 30, 2012

    Although we have similar issues here in the US, it is still shocking to me when I learn of instances where people who can't claim citizenship in the place where they live are treated as less human and less deserving of the basic health care most of us take for granted (although in the US I think we have even less of that to take for granted than in Europe). Thank you for shedding light on this important issue!

    Kim Crane World Pulse Programs Coordinator

  • Aurore
    Jul 31, 2012
    Jul 31, 2012

    With all discussions about financial restrictions here in Europe, I tend not to take these things for granted anymore...Restrictions on migrant health are growing, even in countries that were rather open on sexual and reproductive health like Spain. I hope we can turn the trend around.

    Anyway, thanks for your comment! It felt good to share feelings on it ! Aurore

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