About 70 per cent of immigrants in Malta believe they are suffering from mental health problems and almost half say they have practically no emotional support, according to a study on migrants’ healthcare access.

The “alarming findings” on perceived psychological health of migrants could be the result of traumatising experiences the Africans faced in their country of origin or during their trip out of their country. In fact 83 per cent said they fled their country to escape war or ­persecution.

Being separated from their family, waiting for an asylum request to be decided once in Malta, being held in detention and in poor working and housing conditions could contribute to their feelings.

The situation highlights the need for access to mental healthcare for those who endure hardships, according to a report entitled Access to Healthcare and Living Conditions of Asylum Seekers and Undocumented Migrants.

The research includes interviews with 100 migrants, with an average age of 30, and was carried out by the Health for Undocumented Migrants and Asylum Seekers (Huma) Network that works to promote access to healthcare for migrants. The network was represented in Malta by Skop – the Platform for NGOs.

Project coordinator Davina Nieper stressed that the report was not aimed at attacking Malta’s efficient healthcare system but at showing that some people were slipping through the system. The idea was to raise awareness to solve the situation.

Results showed that one in every four immigrants had been refused healthcare treatment at some point during their stay on the island.

Some 70 per cent had encountered some difficulty in accessing healthcare with the most common obstacles being long waiting lists, discrimination, language barriers and the lack of information about the availability of healthcare. Over 40 per cent were not aware or not sure of their entitlement to healthcare. The report points to the lack of a legal framework that clearly outlines who is eligible to healthcare. Malta has a law recognising the right of asylum seekers to access state medical care services but there is no legal provision on access to healthcare for undocumented migrants (people who are not granted asylum) other than a non-legally binding policy document establishing that all foreigners in detention are entitled to free medical care.

The report makes several recommendations that include introducing inclusive legal provisions to bring access to healthcare for all, providing better information about healthcare entitlement, reducing administrative difficulties and providing professional mental healthcare to those who need it.

Other recommendations include ensuring decent living conditions in open centres and accessibility to decent housing.

Between 2002 and 2009, about 13,000 immigrants landed in Malta. Since then the numbers have dropped, following a ­bilateral agreement between Italy and Libya. This has led to improvement of the situation in detention and open centres where there is less over­-crowding.

The poor conditions, especially in detention centres, had been highlighted in damning reports by international organisations ­inc­luding Medicines Sans ­Frontiere.

Immigrant healthcare and lifestyle

• 27 per cent of migrants worked for over 10 hours a day between several times and every day.

• 83 per cent of working migrants have temporary jobs and 46 per cent of them feel their working conditions could affect their health.

• 77 per cent encountered problems with their accommodation that could be harmful to their health.

• 41 per cent of respondents consulted a public healthcare facility and 36 per cent went to the emergency department of a hospital.

• Nine per cent did not have running water and eight per cent had no electricity.

• 34 per cent consulted private healthcare. Some, including a high number of asylum seekers, did so to avoid being reported to authorities in spite of the fact that they were protected.

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