Brussels, 10th October 2017 – This morning, Mental Health Europe, together with MEP Deirdre Clune (Ireland, EPP) and MEP Miriam Dalli (Malta, S&D) celebrated World Mental Health Day in the European Parliament. Over one hundred participants attended the conference to discuss the urgent need to support the mental health of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
Since the beginning of the year, Europe has welcomed 30,465 new arrivals. This is in addition to the hundreds and thousands who have arrived since the start of 2015. Over the past few years, organisations on the ground have made multiple warnings about the deteriorating situation and the mental health of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe. Experts from the International Organization from Migration, the European Commission, the European Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Disability Forum, the World Health Organization and Medecins du Monde gathered today to explore solutions on how to address the issue and provide quality mental health support to migrants and refugees.
Many tools exist at European level including legislation (ie the Reception Conditions Directive)and funding (the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund) to protect the mental health of migrants and refugees but they remain underused because of lack of training on the ground and difficulty with the identification of people in vulnerable situations. “European law has a lot to offer in this area but it is not exploited enough” regretted Adriano Silvestri from the European Fundamental Rights Agency. Good practices of psychosocial support to migrants and refugees exist but their impact remains limited if they are not scaled up and adapted across Europe.
Participants all agreed that recommendations for future actions should focus on better identification of people in vulnerable situations who may require specific support including people experiencing mental distress, early intervention and culturally appropriate mental health training for all frontline staff. The need for a human rights-based approach to the reception and integration, for all migrants, including persons with psychosocial disabilities was emphasised.
As Vincent Catot from the DG Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission put it“Promoting mental health can benefit the economy and the system; it should be seen as an investment for the future.” The economic case for investing in migrants and refugees’ mental health is strong and the European Union, together with Members States, civil society and actors on the ground must promote or advocate for policies and procedures that grant all migrants’ access to a wide range of health services including psychosocial support.
Throughout the presentations it became clear that this issue does not only touch the lives of refugees and asylum seekers, all migrants have mental health. Changes in identity as well social, economic and cultural structures, stigmatisation and lack of access to necessary services have an undeniable impact on migrants’ mental health. Integration is a pre-requisite for good mental health for all migrants and for healthy economies.
As Nigel Henderson, President of MHE, told participants: “It is not only the journey to Europe that poses the problem, but it is often the reception conditions and lack of support and integration that they face upon arrival that may contribute to mental health problems, we need to promote belief in migrants and create hope for their futures.”