Lancet Report: Unfounded Myths Used to Justify Policies of Exclusion

Contrary to the current political narrative, migrants are an essential part of economic stability in the U.S, says Prof. Terry McGovern, a Lancet Commissioner

December 10, 2018

Stereotypes that migrants are disease carriers who present a risk to public health and are a burden on services are some of the most prevalent and harmful myths about migration, according to new evidence from the UCL–Lancet Commission on Migration and Health. The report, which includes new international data, shows that while these myths are unfounded, they continue to be used to deny migrants entry, restrict access to healthcare, or detain people unlawfully.


The Commission, jointly led by the University College, London, and The Lancet, is the result of a two-year project led by 20 expert Commissioners from 13 countries and represents the most comprehensive review of the available evidence to date. 

Terry McGovern, chair of Population and Family Health, was one of three Commissioners to discuss findings at a December 10 launch event at the Columbia Faculty Club hosted the Columbia Mailman School Program on Global Health Justice and Governance, Columbia Global Centers, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health and Human Rights, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health. Other expert speakers from Columbia Mailman included Monette Zard, director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, and Goleen Samari, assistant professor of Population and Family Health.

According to the report, public health protection and cost savings are often used as reasons to restrict migrants’ access to healthcare or to deny them entry. Yet, as the new report lays out, the most common myths about migration and health are not supported by the available evidence and ignore the important contribution of migration to global economies.

“Contrary to the current political narrative portraying migrants as disease carriers who are a blight on society, migrants are an essential part of economic stability in the U.S.,” said McGovern.  

In 2018, there were more than one billion people on the move, a quarter of whom were migrants crossing international borders. Around the world, punitive policies threaten the health migrants fleeing their home countries. In the United States, experts point to trauma experienced by children separated from their caregivers. 

“The separation of migrant children from their parents creates longterm psychological damage—and is a cruel and unnecessary aspect of U.S. policy,” says McGovern. “The criminalization and detention of migrants seeking internationally protected refuge violates international law and puts them at greater risk of ill health. Migrants are vital to our wellbeing as a society. Addressing the healthcare needs of migrant populations is an essential strategy to stemming costs associated with any avoidable disease burden in these populations.”