International migration – a complex health issue

Author(s): Jesslyn Thay , Date: 17 December 2021

International migration December 18th is International Migrants Day, a moment to take time out of the busy festive period to remember and raise awareness of the millions of international migrants and displaced persons trying to find a better and safer life.

The awareness day is celebrated in conjunction with the United Nations and various charities that not only raise awareness of international migration, but believe that migrants contribute with their knowledge, networks, and skills to build stronger, more resilient communities.

Complex issues of migration

International migration is not without complex issues. Many migrants arriving in new destinations often have unique circumstances, which may lead to poorer health, discrimination and leave them vulnerable to exploitation.

Migration has reached some of the highest levels ever seen, the UN estimates that 281 million people were international migrants in 2020, representing 3.6 per cent of the global population.

Reasons for international migration

Experts warn many millions of people will be forced to flee as a result of the increased magnitude and frequency of natural disasters, economic challenges and extreme poverty brought about by climate change.

 The majority of international migrants choose to leave their, in search of work, opportunity to study or a better life. However, some international migrants often move to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations. The quest for a better and safer life may lead to migrants to take risk, such as paying people smugglers or being trafficked into destinations.

Those migrants which do not authority, or the legal right, to live in their destination country continue to face a life of worry and concern.

Vulnerable international migrants

According to UNHCR, the number of globally forcibly displaced people worldwide was 79.5 million at the end of 2019. Of these, 26 million were refugees (20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 5.6 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate).  45.7 million people were internally displaced, 4.2 million were asylum-seekers, and 3.6 million were Venezuelans displaced abroad.

The vulnerability of illegal immigrants or refugees means they are sometimes exploited through forced work or work in the sex industry. Often a language barrier, or the fear of being deported, prevents vulnerable migrants from accessing health and care services or speaking out about their positions.

Complex health situations

The World Health Organization compiled a list of the most frequent health problems of newly arrived refugees and migrants include accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiovascular events, pregnancy- and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension.

Female migrants often face specific health challenges particularly regarding maternal, new born and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and experiences of sexual/intimate partner violence.

The journey taken to a new destination is not without risk. Many thousands of migrants have unfortunately perished trying to find a new home. As more migrants travel aboard unseaworthy vessels, the number of casualties and deaths among refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea has increased rapidly.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has assisted millions of migrants since it emerged 70 years ago to assist the vast number of Europeans displaced by the Second World War and continues to lead the way in promoting a humane and orderly management of migration for the benefit of all, including the communities of origin, transit and destination.