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How Healthy are Migrants? Findings and Implications Drawn from the Study of Immigrants to Germany

How Healthy are Migrants? Findings and Implications Drawn from the Study of Immigrants to Germany

Does migrating make you sick? In view of the large and increasing number of migrants worldwide, the question is relevant to any country migrants leave or enter – and that means just about every country in the world. People who migrate are taking a risk. They often travel long distances, frequently under difficult or dangerous circumstances. Upon arriving at their destination they are commonly disadvantaged from a socioeconomic perspective, often living and working, for example, under worse conditions than the non-migrant majority population. For this reason, migrants are exposed to greater health risks. Those particularly at risk are undocumented refugees and migrants without legal residence status (so-called "irregular" migrants). Migration, it seems, goes hand in glove with health risks and can make you sick.

On the other hand, migrants are especially active and courageous people who want to determine their own lives. They are mostly young, and their health is above average compared with the population in their country of origin. If they are going from a poorer, developing country to a richer, developed country, they can benefit from improved hygiene conditions and better health care. Therefore, compared with the population in their home country, it seems that migrants have vastly improved health prospects.

"Migration makes you sick; migration improves your health prospects". The current debate on "migration and health" moves between these two opposing elements. Given the highly heterogeneous nature of migrants as a group, a still unsatisfactory situation as far as data is concerned, and a lack of theoretical models for the evaluation of migrant health, resolving this contradiction is going to take time. The aims of this policy brief are to illustrate the current state of debate on the health of migrants and its determinants, and to demonstrate the obstacles that lie in the way of health care for migrants. (Published 04/2009)