Background: The aim of our article is to characterise and compare current standards of health care provision for asylum seekers in the 25 European Union (EU) countries in order to identify the needs and potential for improving access to health care for asylum seekers.
Methods: The study is based on an e-mail survey performed between April and June 2004. The questionnaire was concerned with asylum seekers' access to medical screening upon arrival, and their general access to health care services on April 1, 2004. The questionnaire was sent to ministries and NGOs responsible for asylum seekers' health care in the 25 EU countries. A total of 60% of the ministries and 20% of the NGOs responded. We received answers from 24 out of the 25 countries.
Results: Medical screening was provided to asylum seekers upon arrival in all EU countries but Greece. The content of screening programs, however, varied as well as whether they were voluntary or not. We found legal restrictions in access to health care in 10 countries. Asylum seekers were only entitled to emergency care in these countries. A number of practical barriers were also identified. Legal access to health care changed during the asylum procedure in some countries. Access to specialised treatment for traumatised asylum seekers existed in most countries.
Conclusion: Health policies towards asylum seekers differ significantly between the EU countries and may result in the fact that the health needs of asylum seekers are not always adequately met.