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The Council of Europe and UNHCR support Member States in bringing refugee health workers into the COVID-19 response

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The Council of Europe and UNHCR support Member States in bringing refugee health workers into the COVID-19 response

14 April 2020
United Kingdom. Refugee healthcare volunteer
Hadir, a refugee and research scientist resettled from Iraq, volunteers at an oncology unit at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport in the United Kingdom, in this January 2020 file picture.

As many European countries continue to struggle with the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, the Council of Europe and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today encourage States to benefit from the support refugee health professionals can provide to national health systems at this critical juncture.

“In recent weeks, several States in Europe have publicly appealed for refugee health professionals to join in national responses to the virus. We fully support such initiatives and hope they can be further expanded across the continent and beyond,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Medical professionals and health workers across the continent have responded to the pandemic with selfless determination, and all available help is needed at this time of crisis. Refugees with proven professional competencies are ready to step in and contribute if allowed to, under the supervision of certified health professionals. In this way, they can show their solidarity, and give back to the communities sheltering them.” said Grandi.

There are refugees and asylum seekers currently in Europe with the competences and relevant experience who are willing to get involved and help. But most health-related professions are tightly regulated and competent national health authorities need to give the necessary approvals.

“Refugees, their host societies and their home countries all benefit from the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees. The qualifications that refugees already have, but cannot fully document, can be used and can be built on,” said Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. 

“The EQPR is not a substitute for the necessary professional certificates and licences, but it does help the authorities speed things up by providing some of the background needed”. 

The EQPR can help establish a qualified pool of pre-assessed refugee health practitioners, that will enable the national health authorities to determine how best to deploy refugee resources, if and when needed. UNHCR is engaging with partners to find innovative ways to reach out to refugee communities, identify willing health practitioners, and facilitate access to online tests. Both the Council of Europe and UNHCR are already working with partners from National Qualifications Recognition Centres to identify refugee health professionals and help assess their skills and credentials through this programme.


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The EQPR was launched in 2017 by the Council of Europe to help States assess refugees’ qualifications and facilitate their integration. It involves recognition centers from 10 countries (Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom) as well as public authorities and the UNHCR and receives financial support from Belgium (Flemish government), Georgia, Greece, Italy, Monaco, and Norway. The first holder of the EQPR obtained permanent employment in a health-related field in Norway in 2019. More than 500 refugees have benefitted from the programme across Europe so far.