Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Briefing

How Europe keeps migrants out of its health system

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 24 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2216

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Sophie Arie, journalist, London
  1. sarie{at}

Europe may not want to rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to enter Europe illegally, but those who reach dry land do receive the healthcare they need. However, asks Sophie Arie, does it last after the cameras have stopped watching?

What healthcare are migrants given on arrival by boat?

On arrival by sea, migrants are usually sunburnt, dehydrated, and exhausted. Often, those who paid less than others or of nationalities considered inferior by the human traffickers who operate the boats are locked below deck throughout the journey and come close to suffocation.

All migrants are given water and a health check immediately. Those requiring emergency care are quickly identified and taken to the nearest hospital.

Some have injuries or trauma from earlier stages of their journey. For example, on one boat that was rescued off the Italian island of Lampedusa in April, there were 23 people, including children, with burns, many of them severe. They said that a gas canister had exploded in Libya while they were waiting to be loaded on to boats. They were taken to a burns unit at Palermo’s central hospital.1

Those who are relatively healthy are held in detention centres pending decisions on their migrant status. Those whose applications for …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription