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Original research
Children on the move in Europe: a narrative review of the evidence on the health risks, health needs and health policy for asylum seeking, refugee and undocumented children
  1. Ayesha Kadir1,
  2. Anna Battersby2,
  3. Nick Spencer3,
  4. Anders Hjern4
  1. 1 Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare, Malmo Hogskola, Malmo, Sweden
  2. 2 Kaleidoscope Centre for Children and Young People, London, UK
  3. 3 Division of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  4. 4 Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet and Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS), Karolinska Institutet/Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ayesha Kadir; kadira{at}


Background Europe has experienced a marked increase in the number of children on the move. The evidence on the health risks and needs of migrant children is primarily from North America and Australia.

Objective To summarise the literature and identify the major knowledge gaps on the health risks and needs of asylum seeking, refugee and undocumented children in Europe in the early period after arrival, and the ways in which European health policies respond to these risks and needs.

Design Literature searches were undertaken in PubMed and EMBASE for studies on migrant child health in Europe from 1 January 2007 to 8 August 2017. The database searches were complemented by hand searches for peer-reviewed papers and grey literature reports.

Results The health needs of children on the move in Europe are highly heterogeneous and depend on the conditions before travel, during the journey and after arrival in the country of destination. Although the bulk of the recent evidence from Europe is on communicable diseases, the major health risks for this group are in the domain of mental health, where evidence regarding effective interventions is scarce. Health policies across EU and EES member states vary widely, and children on the move in Europe continue to face structural, financial, language and cultural barriers in access to care that affect child healthcare and outcomes.

Conclusions Asylum seeking, refugee and undocumented children in Europe have significant health risks and needs that differ from children in the local population. Major knowledge gaps were identified regarding interventions and policies to treat and to promote the health and well-being of children on the move.

  • children’s rights
  • general paediatrics

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  • Contributors The authors collectively identified the need for the paper. AK designed and carried out the database searches. NS, AH and AK screened titles and abstracts, and all authors screened full text papers. AK, AB and AH wrote sections of the first draft. AK led development and compilation of the first draft and carried out subsequent revisions. All authors contributed to critical review of the drafts and to the development of the supporting tables and figures.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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