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MSF in Belgium, 2007
Field Staff: 17
Reason for Intervention:
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Everyone in Belgium is entitled to healthcare. This includes undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, although in practice their access to health services is restricted by numerous administrative obstacles. MSF assists migrants in Belgium by providing medical care and advocating for government services to face up to their responsibilities.
MSF continues to provide medical and psychosocial consultations in Brussels and Antwerp to people who cannot access these through normal channels. More than 5,000 consultations were conducted in 2007, with the majority of patients being undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. Rather than creating a parallel system, the aim is to direct people towards the official system, which is supposed to provide the service.
MSF continues to provide medical and psychosocial consultations in Brussels and Antwerp.
When necessary, MSF advocates for patients both with the social services and within political spheres that has led to improvements in access to national health services. As a result, MSF will hand over its activities to another organization in April 2008 because although the situation has improved, there remains a need for a focal point to help migrants and asylum seekers find their way through the complex health system.
Until the end of May, MSF also provided psychological and medical consultations in the five detention centers in Vottem, Melsbroek, Steenokkerzeel, Merksplas and Brugge where illegal migrants are kept before their expulsion. Most of the 206 people seen since May 2006 were suffering from stress related psychosomatic problems. MSF published a report highlighting the negative impact of the detention centers on health and more particularly on mental health.
MSF has also witnessed the human cost of detention for critically ill patients, including women with complicated pregnancies, people living with HIV, diabetics and acute psychiatric cases, many of whom remain in detention centers for several months. MSF has called for a major review and changes to the detention policies for undocumented migrants in Belgium.
MSF 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, www.ithaca-eu.org, has been launched making the information easily accessible to lawyers and other organizations trying to contest expulsion on medical grounds.
MSF has worked in Belgium since 1987.