Border violence, detention and pushbacks in Europe: A determinant of health?

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About this event

The phenomenon of pushbacks has been increasingly documented by NGOs, human rights institutions, media, and health practitioners across European borders, presenting a dire threat to the health, well-being and right to life of migrants. Pushbacks refer to measures taken by States directly or indirectly that force people individually or collectively back over a border without consideration of their individual circumstances, any possibility to apply for asylum, and any access to assistance including emergency medical care. Many international and European institutions have already stated that pushbacks are a denial of a state’s obligation to protect the human rights of people seeking international protection at national borders. Pushbacks have contributed to undue injuries, trauma, mental health, and loss of life among people on the move, especially when conducted violently. Often time the physical abuse, harassment and denial of assistance and medical care, as well as legal assistance may amount to torture or ill-treatment and have long-term consequences on people’s physical and mental health. Pushbacks contribute to the perpetuation of dire living conditions and dangerous journeys, which have been documented as including shipwrecks, extreme temperatures, overcrowding in informal camps, access to basic needs and services (such as shelter, food, water, hygiene, and medication) as well as exposure to abuse, exploitation, and sexual and gender-based violence, in a context where access to appropriate healthcare is often impossible for a long period of times. Additionally, the deprivation of access to medical assistance, protection, water, food, and necessities at borders is a threat to people’s health and life. Delays in searching for and rescuing migrants in distress on land and at sea, as well as in designating safe ports for disembarkation also ultimately undermine their right to life.

To date, healthcare provision at borders and detention facilities is limited, and often NGOs are relied upon by governments to provide basic screening and care. Further, research on health outcomes remain poorly documented as access to these settings and associated data is also limited.

The purpose of this panel discussion will be to explore the explore border securitization practices in Europe and the subsequent violence and oppression used against migrants and how these practices impact on health and wellbeing, and to understand what role health providers, policymakers and academics can play in reducing these practices and their impact on health.

The audience will firstly hear findings from a systematic review on border violence and pushbacks in the European Union and their effect on health, which is due to be published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe toward the end of 2023.  This review is an ongoing effort by the Lancet Migration European Regional Hub working group on Border Detention and Security. Two humanitarian experts will then respond with their professional experiences in mitigating the health impacts of border security and detention. There will be plenty of opportunity for the audience to respond to the panellists and generate a constructive dialogue on regional priorities facing migrant health researchers and practitioners in this context of increasing violence and political ping-pong.


Time Item Speaker
10:30-10:40 Welcome and introduction Dr Rosemary James, Coordinator, Lancet Migration European Regional Hub

Pushback practices and border violence: impact on health outcomes and health service utilisation

(presentation of preliminary systematic review findings)

Zahia Wasko, M.Sc.,  Research associate, University of Heidelberg

Experience(s) from the field

[title TBD]


Dr. Chloe Marshall Denton, humanitarian advisor, Forced Migration Unit, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
11:20 – 11 : 45 Open to audience discussion Dr Anne-Julie Cloux, medical doctor and researcher
11:45 – 12 : 00 Summary & Next Steps Dr Rosemary James