As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in May 2021 with Linnea Näsholm of Oslo Health Centre for Undocumented Migrants and Katrine Meisfjord from the Bergen Health Centre for Undocumented Migrants to discuss the situation in Norway. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Norway. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.
What does the Norwegian vaccination strategy say about undocumented people?
Undocumented migrants are not mentioned explicitly in the Norwegian vaccination strategy. The strategy rather focuses on age and medical conditions as criteria to prioritise groups of people in the vaccination campaign.
Are there any other relevant policies that indicate undocumented people are included in the vaccination campaign?
Yes. The law on communicable disease entitles everyone, regardless of residence status, to health care related to communicable diseases, including treatment and preventative care, like vaccinations.
In addition, in early spring 2021, the Norwegian Directorate of Health published guidance on COVID-19-related care for undocumented people. It addressed a letter to all local and regional health authorities, both primary and specialist healthcare services, calling on them to make the vaccines available for everyone. However, the letter did not detail how undocumented people could practically get their shot. It really passed the buck to the municipalities in terms of how to organise this.
Do you mean that undocumented people can’t just book their vaccine like everyone else?
Indeed. In Norway, as a rule, undocumented people can only access emergency health care and “health care that is totally necessary and cannot be deferred”. For other types of care, except when related to children and pregnant women, you need to have a valid personal identification number and be registered with a GP, which is by law not possible for undocumented migrants. Informal access to a GP may still be possible, but then the doctor has to bear all the costs of the care they provide. The letter from the Directorate of Health stated access to the vaccines for all but didn’t say how undocumented migrants could practically get their appointment and then their shot.
Let’s look at the booking system. How does that work in Norway, and what does that mean for undocumented people?
It depends on the local health authority’s approach. In some localities, you are contacted by the local health authority to get an appointment for your vaccine after your GP sends your contacts to the local vaccination centre. Some other health authorities provide the vaccine at the GP clinic. In both cases, you need to be registered with a GP. And for that, you need a valid identification number, which means you have a valid residence permit.
In Oslo, the Health Centre for Undocumented Migrants, in collaboration with the municipality, arranged for a local GP to come once a week to write referrals for people based on their medical and socio-economic conditions. With these referrals, undocumented people can be called to get their vaccine without the need of a personal number or a valid ID document: only the name, date of birth, phone number and preferred language are noted. We have very good cooperation with one of the local vaccination centres in Oslo, we work together to make sure people get appointments and access to interpretation. They even suggested coming to our health centre or having a specific day just for referred patients in case this could be helpful.
It looks like everything is left to the goodwill of the municipalities. Are there other good practices from local authorities?
Yes, in Bergen, for instance, the municipality is employing a GP who works with grassroots organisations to make sure vulnerable groups are vaccinated. Vaccinations for undocumented people are in practice organised by the Health Centre for Undocumented migrants in Bergen.
Are there any concerns regarding the sharing of personal data with immigration authorities?
In Norway, there’s a very clear firewall and medical staff have a strong duty of confidentiality. We’ve had few cases where immigration authorities called a doctor about patients to be deported, to check when they’d be fit to fly. When that happens, medical staff have a duty to keep confidentiality. It’s illegal for medical staff to report undocumented patients.
Cover: Avonne Stalling – Pexels