FRANKFURT AM MAIN, 2 October 2015 – As Germany has been cast in a favourable light in recent weeks on the EU level due to its increased commitment to welcome migrants and refugees seeking international protection, an international conference discussed the contradictory situation of health care provision of undocumented migrants in Germany and called for reforms on the national level.
Organised by the Health Department of the City of Frankfurt, The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and the organisation Maisha e.V., the conference addressed the legal obligation on most public bodies to report undocumented migrants seeking health care to immigration authorities.
Although the Asylum Seekers Assistance Law (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz) grants undocumented migrants access to some health services, the German Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz) requires Social Welfare Offices to report undocumented migrants to the immigration authorities, except in cases of emergency care. This legal contradiction means that undocumented migrants risk deportation if they seek medical help, often even in emergency situations.
Virginia Wangare Greiner, Director of Maisha e.V. highlighted: “Undocumented migrants often wait for years before they see doctors because they fear being reported and deported. They prefer not to know of their illnesses because they neither have financial means nor health insurance to cover any health costs. Maisha as an organisation continues to empower undocumented migrants that they have a right to health care, that their health matters, that the health of their children matters and that their future and the future of whole societies matters.”
Many health care professionals strive to provide services to all patients, in line with their professional medical ethics. Several local and regional authorities in Germany are working with them, finding ways to provide services to the benefit of general and local public health. This has resulted in a patchwork of service provision at regional and local level.
Rosemarie Heilig, Councillor for Environment and Health, City of Frankfurt stated: ”Frankfurt is considered the ‘melting pot’ of Germany. Migration and refuge have shaped this city for centuries. They are crucial for the character and identity of this city. It is our goal that our humanitarian aspirations, in light of all efforts, remain our main principle; that we can provide people who seek protection the necessary help for their new lives; that migrants and refugees become new citizens who we see as enrichment. This city still has a lot of potential.”
Ten EU member states go beyond emergency care to provide a level of primary and secondary health services to undocumented migrants.* Yet Germany is the only one out of these ten EU member states where the law entitles undocumented migrants to access some non-emergency services, but this right is meaningless, due to the obligation to report undocumented migrants. International speakers provided insight on how health services are provided to undocumented migrants in other EU countries which have recently changed their laws, such as Sweden and Spain, and highlighted the wider medical, ethical, legal, financial** and practical implications of excluding a certain group of the population from preventative and primary health services.
PICUM Director Michele LeVoy stated: “There should be a clear ‘firewall’ between access to health care and immigration enforcement to ensure everyone’s right to health care. This means that undocumented migrants should be able to go to a doctor without any risk of arrest or other negative outcomes for their residence status as a result. A patient is first and foremost a patient”.
The conference concluded that it is an imperative to release all professionals involved in the health system from the duty to report undocumented migrants and recommended that the national government should provide a framework which invests in preventive health care of all people, regardless of residence status to ensure everyone’s right to health care and benefit public health.
* See: Spencer S. and Hughes, V. Outside and In: Legal Entitlements to Health Care and Education for Migrants with Irregular Status in Europe, 2015.
**See also: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights Cost of exclusion from healthcare – The case of migrants in an irregular situation, 2015.
**See: Chauvin P, Simonnot N, Vanbiervliet F, Vicart M, Vuillermoz C. Access to healthcare for people facing multiple vulnerabilities in health in 26 cities across 11 countries. Report on the social and medical data gathered in 2014 in nine European countries, Turkey and Canada. Paris: Doctors of the World – Médecins du monde international network, May 2015. https://mdmeuroblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/mdm-intl-network-full-report-11-countries-22-may-2015.pdf.
About the organisers:
PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, is a non-governmental international organisation (NGO) based in Brussels that promotes respect for the human rights of undocumented migrants. For more information, see: www.picum.org
Maisha e.V.-African Women in Germany is a Frankfurt based organization and self-help group for African women which, among others, also promotes access to health care for all and is the founder of medical consultations for people who have no regular access to health care including undocumented migrant. See: www.maisha.org
The city of Frankfurt’s Department of Health (Gesundheitsamt der Stadt Frankfurt) works with the organisation Maisha to provide medical consultations and treatment for undocumented migrants. For more information, see: www.gesundheitsamt.stadt-frankfurt.de
PCUM Communications Officer
Tel.: +32 2 210 1780
Virginia Wangare Greiner, Director of Maisha e.V. -African Women in Germany
Tel.: 0049 – 69 904 34 905