Section: Long-term

Provision of free medical care targeted at undocumented migrants.

Case study

The Swiss Red Cross runs health centres for undocumented migrants in Bern and Zurich. According to Swiss Law, irregular migrants have the right to health insurance and therefore access to public health care. Furthermore, providing health care to irregular migrants is not illegal if it does not contribute to an extension of their stay in Switzerland. The Swiss Red Cross therefore provides medical support to individuals who cannot afford the high cost of health insurance. The centres provide health counselling, health insurance information, primary health care, psychiatric support, and preventive care. The centres also support irregular migrants to access specialists, hospitals or dentists. The centres receive assistance from a network of disciplinary specialists and donations of medical equipment. Furthermore, the Swiss Red Cross has published a booklet with information on the right to health care, how to access health care and insurance, and recommendations to health practitioners on how to care for migrants who do not have health insurance.

Other examples

In Austria, the National Society has four medical centres in Innsbruck, Linz, Salzburg and Vienna. At these centres, free medical treatment and medications are provided without requiring legal documentation. An agreement has been struck with local law enforcement to turn a blind eye to the support being provided and not check migrants leaving the centres. The Swedish Red Cross implemented a similar programme; however, the law in Sweden changed to provide irregular migrants access to health care through other channels.

Assessment of impact and reach

During 2016, 200 persons were assisted in Bern and 350 in Zurich. 1,016 consultations took place in Zurich during 2015. Impact known and acknowledged by main actors in health.

Cost per beneficiary
$100 +
Alignment with policy

Design. [P1] Focused on supporting the health care vulnerabilities of irregular migrants. [P4] Recognizes rights of migrants according to Swiss law to have access to health care.

  • Efficiently reaching all persons in need without being public, given potential political opposition.
Lessons learned
  • Discretion when providing services increases effectiveness in cases where there is potential political opposition.
  • There are networks of specialists in all medical fields who are willing to help pro bono (mostly retired medical doctors and specialists).
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