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Humanitarian Bottom League? Sweden and the Right to Health for Undocumented Migrants

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ICESCR article 12 generously grants “everyone” the right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health. Ironically, “everyone” is reduced to “most” when held up to scrutiny, but certainly includes migrants. Migrants are entitled to the full realization of the right to health regardless of their legal or immigration status. This realization is threatened as States restrict health care, via legal and financial means, in order to punish undocumented migrants and deter migration. One such State is Sweden where the recent “Law Concerning Health Care for Asylum Seekers and Others” caused one progressive Parliamentarian to lament that its restrictive policies regarding health care and undocumented migrants would put Sweden in the “humanitarian bottom league”. Indeed, Swedish legislation, practice and policy are generally inconsistent with its international human rights obligations towards undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and their right to health. Undocumented migrants are entitled to unsubsidized health care only in immediate and emergency situations. Care is difficult to access and prohibitively expensive in many cases. Asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who are not in hiding are only entitled to subsidized maternity care, care that cannot wait or emergency care. Moreover, a lack of cultural competence amongst caretakers may have a detrimental impact on the quality of care given to these migrants. Consequently, Swedish practice and policy are often at odds with its international human rights law obligations. This threatens to relegate a State that has always been considered a member of the “humanitarian major league” to a one that wallows in the “humanitarian bottom league”.

Affiliations: 1: CT, USA

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/content/journals/10.1163/157181610x496885
2010-04-01
2016-12-08

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