Experts say immediate access to healthcare needed by 4,000 refugees resettling in Ireland

Calls for better services, new family reunification scheme and legal access to Ireland for refugees

Mediterranean, crossing, migration, refugee, migrants, europe, deaths, 2016. UNHCR

File photo of migrants, some swimming and some paddling a rubber dinghy, approaching the beach on the Greek island of Kos | PA Images

More must be done to address the health and social care needs of vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees arriving into the country, according to a new report from the Royal College of Physicians.

The review was published today as new figures showed the number of people forcible displaced by conflict reached its highest ever recorded level last year.

Over 65 million people across the world were either refugees, awaiting asylum decisions or internally displaced at the end of 2015, statistics from the UN Refugee Agency showed.

Ireland has committed to taking in 4,000 people by the end of 2017 under the EU relocation programme. 

But health experts and NGOs have warned that greater efforts are needed to meet the needs of refugees and migrants resettling here.

The report by the RCPI said early screening for chronic diseases, mental health issues and infectious diseases should be ensured for all migrants, including those who are undocumented.

It also called for immediate access to primary care, sexual and reproductive health and mental health services that are culturally and linguistically competent.

Funding for additional vaccinations for asylum seekers and refugees should additionally be ring-fenced so that vaccines can be administered in a timely manner, the report said.

The study also recommended that specialised services, such as psychotherapy for survivors of torture and other traumas, be available and accessible for those who need them, wherever they are resettled.

The co-author of the paper, Dr Anne Dee, said: “We welcome the government’s approach to accepting those fleeing war in the Middle East.

“However, the complicated physical and mental healthcare needs of these people must be met in an appropriate fashion, with adequate interpretation and social supports to encourage full integration into Irish society in the long term.”

Family reunification

Meanwhile, the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has called for safe and legal access to Ireland for refugees.

The NGO’s CEO, Sue Conlan, said: “The Irish government responded to the immediate challenge of the current crisis by providing naval vessels for search and rescue in the Mediterranean and opting in to the EU relocation and resettlement programme.  

"But that now needs to be followed by opening up the opportunities to provide a greater number of refugees safe and legal ways to travel to Ireland without placing themselves and their families at great risk."

In a document sent to all TDs, the charity recommended a raft of measures to support displaced people, including the use of humanitarian visas, an extended humanitarian assistance scheme, private sponsorship programmes and a fair family reunification procedure.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland requested a firm timeline for the arrival of 4,000 refugees into Ireland, with a comprehensive integration plan involving local communities.

It said today that reports of increases in child trafficking for sexual exploitation must be responded to by enacting the Sexual Offences Bill to ensure “Ireland is not seen as a soft target by human traffickers”.