(To be checked against delivery)
Bratislava, 22 November 2007
Movement is a natural process: people come and go. They move from one neighbourhood, from one town, from one city, from one country, from one continent to another neighbourhood, town, city, country and continent. Migration is the oldest cure for poverty and misery, for migrants themselves, for their country of origin, but also for their country of destination.
Proper healthcare for migrants must be an integral part of any proper, intelligent and effective migration policy. Failure to protect the health of migrants will inevitably produce negative social and economic effects. But protecting the health of people on the move is also a human rights imperative. The underlying philosophy of this Conference is based on Article 11 of the European Social Charter: the right to protection of health. This right applies to everyone, including immigrants, whatever their legal status, literally displaced persons, refugees, returnees and people who are victims of trafficking in human beings.
Allow me to start with a few key notions which are of course very well known to all of you. But I believe that recalling them from the outset will help us when we discuss policy issues later on.
First, both migration and public health problems are and have always been global issues, calling for global responses. Health and migration are linked and interdependent. Many of the factors behind global health threats are also the factors which drive migration. Well-managed migration health, including public health, promotes the well-being of everyone and facilitates the integration of migrants within communities. Proper migration health policy is essential in moving from exclusion to inclusion. Health is a bridge to social peace and cohesion.
Second, while migration itself, under normal circumstances, may not be a risk to health, conditions surrounding migration can increase vulnerability. At the Council of Europe we believe and work to ensure that there is “no poor health for poor people”, and that applies to migrants as well.
Third, and this is very important, healthcare professionals should not serve as migration officials. Their job is to study x-rays not visas.
Another related and very important issue is the migration of health workers. This has become a challenge against the global background of a shortage of health workers, and the aging population in industrialised countries. The exodus of health professionals from countries which have invested in their training calls for concerted international co-operation and action.
Against this background what should our governments do? In a nutshell, they must put health in the context of human rights and social cohesion.
The draft Bratislava Declaration sets the guidelines on how to do that in a more specific and detailed manner.
First, by removing practical obstacles to the access of migrants to appropriate health protection including those people in irregular situations.
Second, by incorporating and reinforcing the health dimension in development and co-operation policies on the basis of the principle of “health in all policies – also for migrants”.
Third, by promoting the participation of immigrants. We must give the “silent minority” a chance to have a say in matters which concern them so directly.
Fourth, by encouraging host countries to provide access to healthcare for asylum seekers, refugees and other persons entitled to international protection on the same basis as the nationals of the country.
Fifth, by strengthening social cohesion and reinforcing the principle of solidarity and intercultural dialogue in European health policies.
Sixth, by developing an international code of ethics in healthcare for all categories of "people on the move",
Finally, by making a commitment to an ethical approach in the recruitment of healthcare professionals and to the development of a code of good practice for international recruitment.
We all know that issues related to migration are sensitive and under intense scrutiny in many, if not all, of our member states. But political sensitivity, even controversy, should not discourage us from taking action. Proper healthcare for people on the move is an ethical, but also a social and economic imperative.
Adequate and well-managed health policies for migrants benefit society as a whole. They facilitate integration and inclusion and contribute to social cohesion and economic development. They are common sense!
Finally, I wish this Conference every success, and I want to thank the Slovak Government for choosing this important issue right at the beginning of their Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.