The Impact of Geopolitical Conflicts in Migrants Health
Publicado el 18/12/2023
Like other global phenomena, migration has been shaped by historical geopolitical conflicts. In the Middle East and North African (MENA) region, a longstanding hotspot of political and armed tensions, the repercussions extend far beyond national borders, significantly impacting the lives of millions of people.
In recent years, the MENA region has faced not only the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic but also the enduring consequences the ongoing political tensions and humanitarian crises. The conflicts in Gaza and Sudan have intensified, while tensions and insecurity persist in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, contributing to the region’s status as a key point of origin, transit, and destination for diverse groups of migrants.
Displacement resulting from geopolitical conflict brings profound health implications for migrants.
Ongoing humanitarian crises
As of 2020, the region was home to 40.8 million international migrants, including registered refugees, and over 22.2 million internally displaced persons. The current military offensive in Gaza, combined with the continued annexation, dispossession of land, and forced eviction of residents in the West Bank has triggered a humanitarian crisis, leading to large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people within and outside Palestine. Over the past decades, the military occupation and blockade, have forced many to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, while others become internally displaced within Palestine, enduring unstable housing and limited access to basic services such as healthcare.
Similarly, Sudan, often overlooked in mainstream media, is witnessing protracted conflicts. The fighting in Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, combined with existing humanitarian needs, have led to massive displacement and destruction of crucial infrastructure such as houses and hospitals. Darfur has witnessed inter-communal massacres and ethnic cleansing, triggering massive displacement within Sudan and into neighbouring countries. According to UNHCR, Sudan has the highest number of internally displaced people globally. Indeed, the lack of international action has perpetuated a “humanitarian nightmare” marked by sexual violence, infrastructure destruction, and looting.
Health implications of the migrant journey
MENA countries also serve as departure points for migrants seeking to reach Europe due to these conflicts. The proximity of the coasts of Morocco and Tunisia to European shores, coupled with the absence of stable conditions in these countries, has pushed individuals and families to embark on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean. The toll is stark: over 28,000 migrants lost or missing from 2014 to the present day.
Displacement resulting from geopolitical conflict brings profound health implications for migrants. The journey itself, marked by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, exposes migrants to infectious diseases, physical injuries, violence, and mental health problems. Limited access to health services during displacement exacerbates these challenges, and the exclusion of migrants from health information systems hampers the development of responsive health policies to meet the specific needs of these groups.
Innovative Solutions: Addressing Health Challenges in MENA Migration
Addressing these urgent issues, the MENA Migrant Health Consortium, established in 2021, led by ISGlobal and funded by “la Caixa” Foundation (in the context of the Mobility-Global Medicine & Health Research programme launched by four independent private foundations: ”la Caixa” Foundation (Spain), Welcome Trust (UK), the Volkswagen Foundation (Germany) and Novo Nordisk Foundation (Denmark)), is developing the Migrant Health Country Profile tool (MHCP-t), an innovative tool to monitor key health indicators of migrants in the region.
Based on the available scientific literature in the region and robust research studies in Morocco and Tunisia, the Consortium aims to understand the health indicators, perceptions, and needs of migrant populations. In addition, Migrant Health Secretariats are being set up in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, comprising government, non-government, migrant community, and academic experts to lead the implementation of the tool nationally. Additionally, a network of migrant health researchers in the region is being fostered, including six international doctoral students in Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan. Actually, our Sudanese students have themselves experienced the migration journey first-hand as the political tension in their country has driven them to seek refuge in Egypt to continue their professional careers.
The increasing challenges of international and regional migration need to be understood as part of the geopolitical context. Migration should not be addressed merely as a humanitarian issue, it requires an integrated and holistic political response. As we mark World Migrant Day, let us not only recognize the struggles but also commit to transformative action that respects the dignity and rights of every migrant, fostering a future where geopolitical conflicts no longer dictate the course of human lives.