Access to Healthcare

Together member: Children’s Health Scotland

UNCRC Article 22 (equal rights for refugee children)  

If a child is seeking asylum or has refugee status, governments must provide them with appropriate protection and assistance to help them enjoy their rights under the UNCRC.


“We are calling on the Scottish government to invest more in English classes to all young refugees, so they can achieve their aspirations.”

Khalid Emkidh MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)


“What is NHS?” asked an eleven-year old boy. He spoke very little English and was helping his siblings to translate.

This question was documented by Children’s Health Scotland (CHS) development officers working with asylum-seeking and refugee families and reflects a common experience. Language and communication barriers mean many asylum-seeking and refugee families face barriers when accessing services. This impacts on a range of children’s rights including the best interests of the child (Article 3), the right to health (Article 24), the right to information in a way that can be understood (Article 17), and the rights of asylum-seeking and refugee children to enjoy the same rights as all other children (Article 22).

In 2016, the UN Committee expressed concern that asylum-seeking and refugee children and their families were struggling to gain access to basic services such as healthcare. Research supports this, with findings showing problems accessing primary health care on arrival with many refugee and asylum-seeking families finding it extremely difficult to register with a GP or to understand the role of GPs in their healthcare. Other evidence highlights that families have to wait long periods before an interpreter becomes available, which can prevent them accessing healthcare promptly. There are also reports that many women identify their husband as an interpreter for them and their families, which breaches NHS practice, as well as raising concerns about the women and children’s right to privacy.

Recent moves have been made to try and improve the situation in Scotland. As part of the New Scots integration strategy, refugee families and unaccompanied children housed by local authorities receive support from the relevant Health Board to register with a GP, dentist and receive a health check. NHS Inform has improved the availability of online information for asylum-seekers and refugees. Parents have also indicated to CHS that some GP surgeries in Glasgow are now providing information in Arabic and interpreters have been made available.

Incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law would help strengthen these positive developments, ensuring that refugee and asylum-seeking children from all countries benefit from consistent and early support. Incorporation would help strengthen the measures taken to ensure that asylum-seeking and migrant children are able to access basic services that allow them to achieve the basic standards of living necessary for life, survival and development.

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