It was exactly one year ago today that the government’s inquiry of the right to equal health care for undocumented migrants was presented. There were many who supported the study’s conclusions and proposals, which clearly advocate health care on equal terms.
The study itself, though more than 380 pages long, is fantastic and a joy to read through and is a comprehensive and thorough inquiry into the problem. Therefore it was with growing dissatisfaction that we slowly realized that the inquiry was not going to be released for purposes of consultation.
Although the minister of Social Affairs Göran Hägglund has stated that it the issue is not ”if” but ”when and how” those without documents (“sans papier”) would be given care, nothing has happened with the inquiry. Nor could any replies be heard from the Government itself about what subsequent actions would be taken in light of the study. At Christmas the Right to Healthcare Network marshaled its forces and made an appeal for the inquiry to be sent out for consultation. In February, 12 000 signatures from individuals and 63 signatures from organizations were handed to the Minister of Social Affairs. Among the signatories were representatives from all major health care professions, the Swedish Christian Council, Amnesty International, LO, Doctors Without Borders, Médecins du Monde, Save the Children, Red Cross and TCO and others.
Now, one year after the publication of the inquiry, we still have not heard anything about when it will be sent out for consultation. It’s not surprising that one wonders why the government ordered the inquiry in the first place and if they intend to use it. Perhaps the Minister of migration, Mr Tobias Billström and others not in favour of health care on equal terms, thought that the inquiry that would come up with completely different findings. But if they had known anything about the issue, they should have understood that the arguments and the facts must lead precisely to the conclusion arrived at by the inquiry.
Billström, after the release of the inquiry, publicly declared that is not his government’s intention to introduce health care on equal terms. It seems that no argument whatsoever can sway his/the government, whether based on grounds of humanitarianism, human rights, medical ethics, “pull-effects”, or cost arguments. The number of opinion pieces, letters to the editor, demonstrations, rallies, petitions, concerts, appeals and policy meetings about the issue has reached somewhat absurd heights. Almost the entire civil society of Sweden is behind the recommendations of the inquiry; the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Paul Hunt, has sharply criticized Sweden for our lack of care for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants; the alliance’s migration policies partner the Green Party has basically agreed to make made this issue top priority; the Conservatives political allies KD, C and FP have all committed to the issue; conservatives in the counties around the country have protested against the current system. The fact that nothing has happened despite all the pressure and despite the fact that such a rigorously conducted study refutes all the arguments directed towards care on equal terms is not only scandalous but also incredibly surprising.
What are the opponents of the right to health care are so afraid of? It can hardly be of dramatic cost increases, even if that has been heard as an argument. On account of the inquiry the Institute for Health Care Economics (IHE) in Lund has made an estimate of the increased costs which would be incurred by the commission’s proposals. They estimated a maximum cost increase of 1.02 billion if undocumented migrants and asylum seekers were to be provided with health care on equal terms. This only represents 0.4% of the total budget for the Swedish health care system.
Nor can it be the fear of increased migration flows, or the supposition that it would be difficult to enforce expulsion orders that motivate this opposition. The report states that;
”Notwithstanding the uncertainties and the accumulated experience gained abroad, but also in Sweden in connection with previous legal changes, the availability of health care in a country has no major influence on either the decision to go to a particular country or on the decision to leave a country where you reside without the necessary authorization.”
It seems that they are not particularly afraid of soiling Sweden’s international reputation. Many of us have heard the surprised comments from colleagues and others from countries where people looked up to Sweden’s commitment to human rights and justice. This reputation is now beginning to look more and more threadbare.
Now more politicians must become involved in the matter, on the parliamentary level and at county level and in all parties! We need more like those in Södermanland County who even wrote an article to get their colleagues at the national level to change the legislation. We who work in organizations in the Right to Healthcare-Network will continue to scream with all our might until we have legislation in place that gives all people, regardless of legal status, equal rights to health care. Shout with us, all you too.
Anne Sjögren, team leader, Rosengrenska / Red Cross care for undocumented migrants Gothenburg, and the convenor of the Right to Health Initiative.
Robert Höglund, communications officer in the nonprofit sector, committed to the Right to Healthcare-Network since 2008.
(Right to Healthcare-Network brings together over more than 60 organizations, all supporting undocumented migrants right to health care. Http://www.vardforpapperslosa.se)
Proofreader: Glenn Leihner-Guarin