UNHCR welcomes draft bill that will let refugee doctors practise in Ireland

News Stories, 28 February 2007

© UNHCR/S.O'Brien
The Dáil, Ireland's parliament. The draft Medical Practitioners Bill, which proposes letting refugee doctors register and practise in the country, was tabled here.

DUBLIN, Ireland, February 28 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Wednesday welcomed draft legislation that will allow refugees who are qualified medical doctors to register and practise in Ireland for the first time.

Qualified refugee doctors are also happy at the initiative, which should come as good news to the Irish Medical Organisation, which says there is a general shortage of medical doctors in Ireland. UNHCR estimates that some 100-200 doctors have gone through the asylum system in Ireland over the past decade, but most have not been able to practise.

The new proposal is included in the draft Medical Practitioners Bill, which is aimed at modernising the profession. Presenting the draft in the Irish parliament on February 23, Health Minister Mary Harney said it included provisions "to help doctors holding refugee status to become registered."

UNHCR Representative in Ireland Manuel Jordão on Wednesday urged members to support the initiative as it moves through its various stages in the Dáil, or parliament. "Integration of its migrant and refugees will be a number one priority for Ireland in the next few years. Although only one of many initiatives, the proposal to help refugee doctors to practise will be of immense benefit for their integration prospects, and of great benefit to Ireland too," he said.

Unable to return home or move easily to another country, refugee doctors frequently have problems acquiring or producing original documents and certificates. They also often face limited opportunities to upgrade their skills to register as doctors in countries of asylum.

At a recent integration conference in Dublin, UNHCR's Guy Ouellet promoted a system for recognising refugee doctors as "a concrete example of a positive step towards refugee integration."

Ouellet, deputy director of UNHCR's Europe desk, said Ireland had put in place important integration measures in areas such as welfare, education, employment, naturalisation, and non-discrimination.

But Ouellet warned that public attitudes were hardening as the number of immigrants increased and said it was critical "to pre-empt this intolerance by supporting a system where the skills and potentials of foreigners, including refugees, could be put to best use."

Ouellet said pilot programmes that showed the value and skills that refugees brought with them could be of great benefit to all. "One example of such a programme," he said, "would be to contact doctors who initially entered as refugees and find out how they have fared, organise them in a group and upgrade their credentials through a specialised programme."

He said the 100-200 doctors estimated to have passed through the asylum system would be a "good initial target group to focus on re-equipping with the necessary upgrades to their already acquired medical skills."

Ouellet was thinking of people like Mona,* a Palestinian former asylum seeker and qualified doctor. "When I arrived here, my degree was recognised but my initial hospital training after graduation was not. The Medical Council didn't allow me to register and there was no help to retrain or redo an internship," she said.

Despite post-graduate medical qualifications from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Mona has been unable to acquire registration. She recently acquired Irish citizenship.

Mona said she hoped refugees could benefit from the new proposals, but warned that they would still need guidance and assistance to upgrade their skills. "We've waited a long time for change. As a refugee, I wasn't able to leave Ireland to go somewhere else. Refugee status pins you down. No one wants you. It's like a disease," she said.

"I was stuck here with all my registration difficulties. My first concern was my safety, but after a while my dignity suffered, especially not being allowed to prove myself," she added.

* Name changed at her request.

By Steven O'Brien in Dublin, Ireland

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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

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Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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