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MSF in Belgium, 2006/2007
Field Staff: 16
Reason for Intervention:
All articles on Belgium »
Belgian law grants undocumented migrants and asylum seekers the right to healthcare, but in practice many administrative obstacles impede their access to health services. MSF assists migrants in Belgium by providing medical care and advocates for government social services to face up to their responsibilities. In 2006/2007, teams also placed a specific emphasis on helping migrants in detention centers.
MSF provides regular psychological and medical consultations in the five detention centers in Vottem, Melsbroek, Steenokkerzeel, Merksplas and Brugge, where illegal migrants and asylum seekers are kept before being expelled. Out of the 206 consultations conducted since May 2006, most people suffered stress-related psychosomatic troubles including headaches, sleep problems and lack of appetite.
MSF has also witnessed the human cost of critically ill patients including women with complicated pregnancies, persons living with HIV, diabetics and acute psychiatric cases. These people often remain in detention centers for several months. In May 2007, MSF issued a report with data gathered by regular visits to those centers in the preceding year. The report showed that detainees with mental health problems do not get the care they need and critically ill patients and psychiatric cases are kept locked in. MSF has called for a major review and changes to the detention policies for undocumented migrants in Belgium.
Providing care to those excluded from the system
MSF continues to provide medical and psychosocial consultations in Brussels and Antwerp to people who cannot obtain those services in the regular system. The majority of patients are undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. In 2006, more than 8,000 consultations were conducted.
MSF also provides information to people who face expulsion and who will not have access to the treatment they need in their country of origin. A website, ithaca-eu.org has now been launched so that the information is easily accessible to lawyers and other organizations trying to contest expulsion on medical grounds.
MSF has worked in Belgium since 1987.