Healthcare is a human right. This is a fact that, as Westerners, we are imbued with from a young age and that is evident in Article 25 of the declaration of human rights that states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of…circumstances beyond his control.” Under this international article, all human beings are endowed with protection of the right to health and wellbeing of personhood.
The protection of this inalienable right, though in place under international law, is undertaken by individual nation states who implement and regulate their own systems of healthcare. Because refugees and asylum-seekers are between borders, internally displaced, or stateless, their precarious statuses make them a population particularly vulnerable to a lack of guarantee to this right to health. This right, however, should not be contingent on citizenship status of a state, but on the basis of being human. Multiple European nations are not upholding this belief in the current refugee crisis, but rather are acting directly contrary to it.
It is the deplorable truth that many countries, including more economically developed nations, do not employ a healthcare system that embodies the fundamental principle of healthcare as a human right. Myriad US citizens, disproportionately low-income people of color, suffer from this absence of universal healthcare daily in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world; not to mention less-economically developed nations, or nations that are hot-beds of conflict, that do not have the means to provide advanced and equitable healthcare to their citizens.
Because even within many nation borders there is a dire need for improved quality of health care, the dearth of access to and quality of healthcare for those between borders demands to be called into question.
Not only are millions of Syrian refugees making the impossible decision to risk their lives to escape what has become one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, but, in doing so, they are sacrificing fundamental human rights that come with the protection of the state—one of the most vital of them being access to healthcare. These asylum-seekers, however, are not finding a regaining of those rights upon their various entrances into Europe. Rather, in the majority of cases they find themselves in heavily-burdened countries such as Hungary, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, that not only are adamant in their unwillingness to grant them asylum, but that are unwilling to treat them as human beings with fundamental rights in the holding period.
Refugee camps and processing facilities within these countries are under-resourced, inhumanely disorganized, and stigmatized by the local community. In the majority of cases these camps are run solely by NGO’s and international aid groups, guarded only by the local police to dissuade any violent activity. With countries such as Hungary pledging to grant asylum to not one refugee, where does that leave those without a home? Oftentimes in poor physical and mental health, and with no other option but to continue the journey north towards countries more willing to accept them.
In recent weeks, there has been a cessation in the Dublin Regulations in Germany that, under EU law stipulates that refugees only can be granted asylum in the country in which they first enter, permitting entryway countries such as Hungary to bus thousands of asylum seekers to northern Europe; however, conditions are still in need of significant improvement in the processing facilities within these gateway nations. The rights of these vulnerable human beings are being blatantly disregarded.
This neglect is not only deteriorating health, and, in turn, overall living conditions for refugees within these camps, but is exacerbating health conditions in all locations within the EU experiencing an influx of refugees. As health is embedded in all sectors of livelihood, the refugee crisis only continues to worsen.
There have been myriad complaints and expressions of fears from within the EU that this incursion of refugees from countries particularly in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, are bringing with them an array of new diseases. These fears, though valid, are bolstered by increasing Islamophobia in Europe and contribute to the stigmatization of refugees as well as the lack of organized aid going to them.
The point these countries are missing, is that withholding resources from refugees won’t deter them from coming; conversely, it is degenerating health conditions of asylum seekers even further that affect the hosting European cities and feed a self-fulfilling prophecy. To put it succinctly, the situation is becoming more dangerous for everyone.
Many European seem to believe that by refusing to grant asylum to the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking it, paired with withholding basic aid and support will deter refugees from coming; the truth, however, is that refugees are using any means to make the journey into Europe regardless of the cost, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. According to the UNHCR, 38 European countries have recorded at least a 24% increase in asylum applications since 2013. This number is only continuing to rise as the state of the Syrian wars continues to worsen, along with conflict and instability in other countries such as Afghanistan and Eritrea. Therefore, devising strategies to keep refugees out is not the answer to mitigating an influx of diseases—improving access to, and quality of healthcare within camps and adhering to the Declaration of Human Rights, is.
Jenna Sherman is a junior majoring in Community Health and Peace and Justice Studies.