Harmful, unfounded myths about migration and health have become accepted, used to justify policies of exclusion

07.12.2018 - London, UK - Silvia Swinden

This post is also available in: Italian

Harmful, unfounded myths about migration and health have become accepted, used to justify policies of exclusion
Arrested refugees-immigrants in Fylakio detention center, Evros, Greece. (Image by Ggia. • CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to research published in The Lancet and reported by ScienceDaily “Stereotypes that migrants are disease carriers who present a risk to public health and are a burden on services are some of the most prevalent and harmful myths about migration. Evidence from a comprehensive new report, including new international data analysis, shows these myths to be unfounded, yet they continue to be used to deny migrants entry, restrict access to healthcare, or detain people unlawfully.”

The report states that “Public health protection and cost savings are often used as reasons to restrict migrants’ access to health care, or to deny them entry. Yet, as the new UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health lays out with new international data and analysis, the most common myths about migration and health are not supported by the available evidence and ignore the important contribution of migration to global economies.

“In 2018, there were more than one billion people on the move, a quarter of whom were migrants crossing international borders. The Commission is the result of a two-year project led by 20 leading experts from 13 countries, and includes new data analysis, with two original research papers, and represents the most comprehensive review of the available evidence to date. The report, including its recommendations to improve the public health response to migration, will be launched on 8th December at the UN Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in Marrakech.

“Populist discourse demonises the very same individuals who uphold economies and bolster social care and health services. Questioning the deservingness of migrants for health care on the basis of inaccurate beliefs supports practices of exclusion, harming the health of individuals, our society, and our economies,” says Commission Chair Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, UCL (UK). “Migration is the defining issue of our time. How the world addresses human mobility will determine public health and social cohesion for decades ahead. Creating health systems that integrate migrant populations will benefit entire communities with better health access for all and positive gains for local populations. Failing to do so could be more expensive to national economies, health security, and global health than the modest investments required to protect migrants’ right to health, and ensure migrants can be productive members of society.”

“The Lancet editor Dr Richard Horton adds: “In too many countries, the issue of migration is used to divide societies and advance a populist agenda. With one billion people on the move today, growing populations in many regions of the world, and the rising aspirations of a new generation of young people, migration is not going away. Migrants commonly contribute more to the economy than they cost, and how we shape their health and wellbeing today will impact our societies for generations to come. There is no more pressing issue in global health.”

Summarising the findings about “Myths about migration and health not supported by the available evidence:”

Migrants to rich countries are more likely to be students who pay for their education or labour migrants who are net contributors to the economy. An overwhelming consensus of evidence exists on the positive economic benefits of migration. In advanced economies, each 1% increase in migrants in the adult population increases the gross domestic product per person by up to 2%.

Far from being a burden, migrants are more likely to bolster services by providing medical care, teaching children, caring for older people, and supporting understaffed services. In the UK, 37% of doctors come from abroad.

Much has been made of immigrants as disease carriers but this is also inaccurate and several studies (eg on tuberculosis) have shown that in the few situations where this happens the risk of transmission of infections is elevated only within migrant communities, and is negligible in host populations.

The research also debunks the belief that migrant communities have a higher fertility rate than the host counties.

The report is very critical of draconian immigration laws (which often lead to prolonged detention of people who have not committed any crimes and the retraumatisation of victims of rape and torture) and border controls, stressing the separation of children from their parents and violent treatment of migrants.

In spite of this and previous research about migration xenophobia has fuelled the rise of many far right populist governments that spread such myths taking advantage of unregulated social media as well as corporate media representing vested interests. Making others aware of well researched myth-debunking publications may go some way towards stemming the rise of dehumanising violent policies.

Categories: Health, Human Rights, International, Politics
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