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Refugee Health: Challenges of Resettlement

Life as a refugee is difficult for most of us to fathom: imagine being uprooted from your home because of violence or persecution, moving to a camp for an unknown amount of time, and finally being resettled in another country, far from everything you’ve ever known.

Photo: Children Reading.A refugee is any person who is outside his or her country of nationality and who is unable or unwilling to return to that country. This may be due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, particular social group, or political opinion. The United States has resettled about 2.6 million refugees since 1975, and each year about 70,000 refugees are welcomed into this country.

But the road to resettlement is a long one, and there are a number of steps a refugee takes between leaving their home country and arriving in our nation. Health is one of many concerns a refugee must deal with during the long transition process. Because of very difficult living conditions in their home countries, refugees are especially vulnerable to illness and poor health. Refugee camps may also pose difficulties. Conditions in the camp may not be clean and food may be inadequate, leading to poor nutrition. Before resettlement, refugees also lack a ”medical home.” Thus, they may never have had proper care for chronic conditions.

Photo: Bhutanese Refugees.Although the challenges refugees face are daunting, a wide network of organizations, agencies, and services continue to help refugee groups. CDC is among those committed to ensuring that refugees receive quality health screening, treatment, and care. In addition to setting standards for the medical screening of U.S.-bound refugees, CDC also advises states in the medical screening process once refugees arrive in the United States. Overseas, CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine also has two primary field offices that are involved in refugee health activities. These range from disease surveillance to providing technical assistance to physicians who conduct refugee medical examinations. CDC also works closely with foreign governments, U.S. government agencies, and other health or resettlement organizations to improve the resources and services provided to refugee groups.

More Information

How CDC is Improving Refugee Health

  • Page last reviewed: June 23, 2010 (archived document)
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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