Refugees and Asylum seekers are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society. By definition an asylum seeker or refugee is fleeing persecution and seeking protection. Each will have individual experience; some may be fleeing war or torture and may have a wide range of physical and psychological health needs.
It is important to examine the differences between those who are considered ‘asylum seekers’ and those who have been granted refugee status as this may have a clear effect on their health needs and access to health care.
An asylum seeker is defined in the The facts about asylum as:
"A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded."
A refugee is defined by the 1951 United Nations Convention as:
"A person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."
A refused or failed asylum seeker is a person whose asylum claim has been rejected and arrangements to leave the UK are being made. These individuals have limited entitlements and healthcare is included in this.
Studies have noted that the health needs of asylum seekers broadly mirror that of the general population. Due to circumstances such as war and poverty in their country of origin, and often a treacherous journey to the country in which they are seeking asylum, individuals may have very specific health needs that local services may not regularly encounter. It is approximated that 17% of refugees have a physical health problem affecting their daily life, with two thirds suffering from anxiety and depression ( Refugee health in London: key issues for public health ).
The current global security situation is volatile, with various conflicts in both the Middle East and North Africa increasing the number of those seeking asylum. The United Kingdom government has pledged to accept more refugees from Syria over the next 5 years and Calderdale Council has supported this.
Katie Neill, Specialist Registrar, Public Health, Calderdale Council;
edited by Emily Powell, Public Health Intelligence Intern, Public Health, Calderdale Council.
25 January 2016, updated 25 November 2016.