Right to health

Illustrations: Warda Ahmed

Illustrations: Warda Ahmed

Undocumented migrants have the right to health too

The right to health is a human right, which means it is the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This right belongs to everyone, regardless of their residence status. The right to health is enacted in international agreements as well as Finnish national legislation.

On an international level the right to health is stipulated in the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The basis of these agreements is that the right to health should be ensured equally to every person in a nation’s jurisdiction.

Governments have a special duty of care towards vulnerable persons such as children, pregnant women or women who have just given birth and it is important that their specific needs be met. Any action taken by authorities or officials which involves children the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The Finnish constitution and human rights agreements: necessary care must be provided

In Finland the right to health of an undocumented person is anchored in Section 19 of the constitution which stipulates that those who cannot obtain the means necessary for a life of dignity have the right to receive indispensable subsistence and care. This right is exemplified for example in the emergency care that must be given to all, according to the Health Care Act and the Act on Specialized Medical Care. Undocumented migrants will have to pay for the true cost of the emergency care as well as the full price for any medication.

Maternity and child services or even the treatment of serious chronic illnesses does not constitute emergency care. This is where some inadequate lower level legislation does not meet with the requirements of constitutional and human rights legislation: as they stipulate that even undocumented migrants should have the right to access at least necessary treatment and that pregnant women and children should be given extensive health care services.

The current situation is in stark contradiction with the ethical guidelines given to health care professionals, the constitution of Finland, and various human rights treaties. The situation is especially problematic in relation to undocumented pregnant women and children.

Health services for undocumented persons in Helsinki and Turku

In Helsinki all undocumented persons have access to emergency care at the same price as Helsinki residents. In addition to this, minors under 18 years old and pregnant women have the right to some more extensive health services. The city of Turku has also decided to operate in the same way with regards to undocumented children and pregnant women.

It is not a crime to provide health care to an undocumented person – on the contrary

Providing health care to a person residing in Finland without documentation, just like any humanitarian assistance, is not a crime in any circumstances. On the contrary, negligence is a criminally punishable offence.

Health care professionals do not have the right to inform authorities about a person residing in the country illegally. Therefore an undocumented person should not be reported just because they are undocumented. Apart from a few exceptions, health care professionals are bound by a very comprehensive duty of confidentiality.

Volunteer doctors provide care to undocumented migrants

Global Clinic is a health clinic run by volunteer health care professionals which operates in Helsinki, Turku, Joensuu, Oulu and Tampere. Undocumented migrants can see a doctor anonymously and free of charge but there are limited possibilities for further examinations and care. In urgent matters you should always seek out emergency care.