Migrants' Access to Health Care, State Responsibility and NGOs' Role in an Age of Neo-Liberal Globalization

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Migration and the presence of large non-citizen populations in nation-states highlight the tensions between global mobility and traditional concepts of citizenship. Migrants find themselves on the interface between globalized realities and confined national frameworks (Balibar 2004), also with regards to their access to host countries' healthcare systems. As a result, they often remain excluded, or are only partially entitled to health benefits (Morris 2003). In many countries NGOs are an important agent in the debate on migrants' access to healthcare services. In the context of neo-liberal retrenchments, humanitarian NGOs have also become alternative healthcare providers who partly fill the vacuum left by the welfare state's withdrawal from the provision of services to migrants and other marginalized populations. In many cases they thus help to build legitimacy for the state's retreat from social responsibilities (Castaneda 2011; Karl-Trummer et al 2009). On the other hand, activities based on the rationales of human rights and political advocacy address the question of migrants' social inclusion by directing health rights-claims at the state. Thus, while humanitarian action, human rights activism and political advocacy all address migrants' access to healthcare, essential tensions exist between their respective paradigms and practices, as these embody different understanding of NGOs' main raison-d'etre. In this article we want to point to the existing tensions within NGOs that work in the field of migrants' health, asking whether and how NGOs can manage the tensions emerging from their variegated spectrum of roles, including humanitarian and political elements. We use an in-depth analysis of a specific case-study of the organization Physicians for Human Rights–Israel (PHR-IL) in order to illuminate the broader question of NGOs' role in the realm of migrant healthcare and point out options for a possible fruitful relationship between the divergent paradigms of medical humanitarianism and political/ human rights activism. We claim that NGOs should acknowledge those tensions as an opportunity to critically review their own activities and to more directly involve the respective communities in the discussion of how to address migrants' health rights issues.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInequalities in Health Care for Migrants and Ethnic Minorities
EditorsD. Ingleby, A. Chiarenza, W. Devillé, I. Kotsioni
PublisherGarant Publishers
ISBN (Print)9789044129328
StatePublished - May 2012

Publication series

NameCOST series on health and diversity


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