Summary: EU Governance of Forced Migration – Impacts on Health (and) Equity

EUhealthgov |

On 30 November, EUHealthGov held an In Conversation event on (forced) migration and health. We were delighted to welcome Dr Tamara Tubakovic (LSE), Dr Apostolos Veizis (INTERSOS) and Dr Mechthild Roos (University of Augsburg).

The speakers explored how the governance of forced migration affects the health of people on the move, and the role of the EU within this increasingly polarised political landscape. They discussed policy reforms that have affected migrants’ access to healthcare systems specifically, and, beyond healthcare, how the contemporary asylum paradigm normalises cruelty towards and the dehumanisation of people on the move.

Tamara highlighted the inadequacy of the EU framework on asylum provision with respect to healthcare, making the case that this omission represents active neglect. This reflects the aim of migration policies in ‘Global North’ countries to deter migrants and refugees from seeking asylum in their territories and engage in a race to the bottom as they create actively hostile environments for (forced) migrants. Tamara also pointed to the growing securitisation of both migration and health, including since COVID-19: how security discourses frame refugees as a threat to health in a way that legitimises deterrence and exclusion.

Illustrating how countries create hostile environments, Mechthild talked about the gradual removal of access to healthcare for migrants, including in Germany and Sweden. She explored how EU member states legitimate the exclusion of migrants from their welfare system by invoking ongoing polycrises and stretched resources, thereby stoking populist and nativist sentiments. Within this increasingly politicised context, Mechthild also demonstrated how EU member states attempt to keep competences in this area firmly in national hands, while simultaneously incorporating the EU (either the EU institutions or other member states) into the political discourse in an instrumental way, to evade responsibility and/or to shift blame.

Apostolos reminded everyone that the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is not about refugees, but that the problem lies in the host countries: at least 60,253 migrants died in the process of migrating towards an international destination since 2014 (International Organisation for Migration, 2023). The majority died in the Mediterranean region. Apostolos made the point that, if people do make it to a host country, their health deteriorates after their arrival, due to inhumane living conditions and the lack of access to basic services. In light of this bleak picture, he stressed the importance of exposing the medical and humanitarian consequences of restrictive migration and asylum policies and the failures of states’ responses.

Each from a different angle, the speakers talked about the internal and external bordering dynamics that states reinforce through policies, practices, and discourses that marginalise forced migrants and refugees. They stressed how treating migration and asylum as a permanent crisis – where measures are only ever temporary arrangements made in response to overwhelming circumstances – precludes an adequate, long-term solution to providing care and improving health.

You can watch a full recording of the webinar here.