One year on, health clinic for illegal immigrants proves popular

A volunteer health clinic for undocumented migrants treated 600 people last year and was yesterday awarded a 15,000 kroner prize for its work

A clinic for illegal immigrants in Copenhagen is being put to good use a year after it opened beside the main station in Vesterbro.

According to a report released today, almost 600 illegal immigrants, or undocumented migrants, have used the clinic since it opened last summer and its popularity is increasing.

“The report supports our justification for opening the clinic,” Susanne Larsen, president of the Red Cross in Denmark, wrote in a press release. “There is a great need for medical help among people residing illegally in Denmark and without the clinic these people would not be able to receive help for diabetes or pregnancy.”

The clinic – run by the Red Cross, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), and the Danish medical association, Lægeforeningen – has proven so popular that the clinic has taken on more and more staff to handle the numbers.

Undocumented migrants in Copenhagen can only seek medical help in the public system, without the risk of being turned over to the police, if their condition is considered ‘acute’.

This leaves many that suffer from chronic and less critical illnesses without anywhere to seek medical attention and it is these people that the clinic set out to help.

According to the Red Cross, the four most common reasons for attending the clinic are broken limbs, pregnancy, skin diseases and teeth problems. Patients with more severe illnesses, such as leukaemia, heart problems or tuberculosis are sent on to specialists.

Those that visit the clinic tend to be migrants looking for work, people seeking family reunification, rejected asylum seekers and au pairs that remain in the country after their contract has run out.

They are seen by a total of 141 volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, bioanalysts, physiotherapists, midwives and psychologists.

The Red Cross and Lægeforeningen want a more precise definition for what ‘acutely ill’ constitutes, while also expanding the range of services undocumented migrants can be entitled to.

“The current guarantee in the health law for treating undocumented migrants that are acutely ill, is too narrow,” Poul Jaszczak, chairman of Lægeforening’s ethical council, said in the press release. “It doesn’t work in practice. Guarantees for treatment in the health service should be made for those suffering from diabetes, gout and for women seeking pregnancy check-ups."

When the clinic opened last year, the clinic's project manager Vibeke Lenskjold, argued that Denmark would benefit from having healthy migrants.

“I believe that when people are healthy and feeling well they are able to travel," Lenskjold said. "So if we can’t cure them then we end up having to keep them in Denmark."

Last night, the clinic won a 15,000 kroner Frivillighedsprisen, which is awarded by the the city each year to a deserving volunteer programme.

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