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Access to health care for undocumented migrants from a human rights perspective: A comparative study of Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands

Journal article
Authors D. Biswas
B. Toebes
Anders Hjern
Henry Ascher
Marie Nørredam
Published in Health and human rights
Volume 14
Issue 2
Pages 1-12
ISSN 2150-4113
Publication year 2012
Published at Institute of Medicine
Pages 1-12
Language en
Keywords access to health care, human rights, undocumented migrants. right to health
Subject categories Medical Ethics, Health Care Service and Management, Health Policy and Services and Health Economy


Background Undocumented migrants’ access to health care varies across Europe, and entitlements on national levels are often at odds with the rights stated in international human rights law. The aim of this study is to address undocumented migrants’ access to health care in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands from a human rights perspective. Methods Based on desk research in October 2011, we identified national laws, policies, peer- reviewed studies, and grey literature concerning undocumented migrants’ access to health care in the three involved countries. Through treaties and related explana- tory documents from the United Nations and the Council of Europe, we identified relevant international laws concerning the right to health and the rights of different groups of undocumented migrants. A synopsis of these laws is included in the analysis of the three countries. Results Undocumented migrants in Denmark have the right to emergency care, while addition- al care is restricted and may be subject to payment. Undocumented migrants in Sweden have the right to emergency care only. There is an exception made for former asylum- seeking children, who have the same rights as Swedish citizens. In the Netherlands, undocumented migrants have greater entitlements and have access to primary, second- ary and tertiary care, although shortcomings remain. All three countries have ratified international human rights treaties that include right of access to health care services. We identified international treaties from the United Nations and the Council of Europe that recognize a right to health for undocumented migrants and embrace gov- ernmental obligations to ensure the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality of health services, in particular for specific groups such as women and children. Conclusion In the Netherlands, undocumented migrants’ right to health care is largely acknowl- edged, while in Denmark and Sweden, there are more restrictions on access. This reveals major discrepancies in relation to international human rights law.

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