The arrival of more than one million migrants, many of them refugees, has proved a major test for the European Union. Although international relief and monitoring agencies have been critical of makeshift camps in Calais and Eidomeni where infectious disease and overcrowding present major health risks, few have examined the nature of the official reception system and its impact on health delivery. Drawing upon research findings from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project, this article considers the physical and mental health of asylum–seekers in transit and analyses how the closure of borders has engendered health risks for populations in recognised reception centres in Sicily and in Greece. Data gathered by means of a survey administered in Greece (300) and in Sicily (400), and complemented by in-depth interviews with migrants (45) and key informants (50) including representatives of government offices, humanitarian and relief agencies, NGOs and activist organisations, are presented to offer an analysis of the reception systems in the two frontline states. We note that medical provision varies significantly from one centre to another and that centre managers play a critical role in the transmission of vital information. A key finding is that, given such disparity, the criteria used by the UNHCR to grade health services reception do not address the substantive issue that prevent refugees from accessing health services, even when provided on site. Health provision is not as recorded in UNHCR reporting but rather there are critical gaps between provision, awareness, and access for refugees in reception systems in Sicily and in Greece. This article concludes that there is a great need for more information campaigns to direct refugees to essential services.
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