The significant and sometimes life-threatening barriers faced by asylum seekers and refugees when attempting to access medical treatment will be highlighted this Wednesday 1 November at a conference hosted by the Refugee Council: ‘Safe from harm: Health and social care for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers’.
In a keynote speech, the President of the British Medical Association, Professor Parveen Kumar, will examine the provision of healthcare to this vulnerable group. She said:
“Offering medical care to asylum seekers and refugees is a basic humanitarian imperative. These people have fled war, torture and persecution, and often find themselves alone, vulnerable and terrified. The least we can do is offer to look after their health and well-being.
“This is a group of people with no-one and nowhere to turn to. While they are here, they are ours to look after.”
A particular theme of the conference will focus on recent restrictions that deny failed asylum seekers access to secondary care – that includes hospital treatment and maternity care.
These restrictions have resulted in pregnant women being forced to give birth at home, alone, and cancer patients being denied treatment. Even those who are treated are then hounded by debt collectors and bailiffs for impossible sums they are unable to pay.
Anna Reisenberger, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“These restrictions are inhumane and extremely dangerous. The rules state that asylum seekers who have been refused leave to stay should pay for their medical treatment. Yet asylum seekers in this situation are often unable to return home, are almost always destitute, and will never be able to pay. We have seen destitute asylum seekers being presented with bills for tens of thousands of pounds.
“There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that people claim asylum in the UK to access medical treatment, and no evidence either that asylum seekers are in any way a drain on our health services.
“We urge the government to restore full rights to healthcare for all those who claim asylum in the UK.”
The Refugee Council has recently published a report into the impact of these rules, entitled ‘First do no harm: denying healthcare to people whose asylum claims have failed’, which can be accessed through the website.
The conference is supported by the King’s Fund and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).
The conference also marks the launch of the Refugee Council’s new ‘Just.Fair’ campaign, to end destitution for asylum seekers and to ensure fairness and justice throughout the asylum process. This campaign will form the basis for the Refugee Council’s continued fight to restore full healthcare provision for asylum seekers.
Refugee Council’s conference: Safe from harm? Health and social care for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers – conference details, speakers and agenda.
Refugee Council’s report: First do no harm: denying healthcare to people whose asylum claims have failed [June 2006]
Refugee Council’s campaign: Just.Fair. campaign