Better quality access to healthcare for Asylum Seekers and Refugees

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Better quality access to healthcare for Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The forced migrants have full access to healthcare in Poland. However, the state does not provide any interpretation services, so doctors and patients very often do not understand each other which turns many visits useless. That is why we created a group of volunteers accompanying migrants as interpreters in hospitals.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Polish state does not provide any interpretation services for foreigners in hospitals and doctors rarely speak foreign languages. Even though the forced migrants have full access to healthcare, it is quite often just in theory because the communication between doctors and patients is hardly possible. It happens sometimes that doctors do not even try to make an effort to communicate and they refuse to accepte a migrant for a visit if (s)he is not accompanied by an interpreter. Polish authorities cannot (do not want to?) organise the interpretation services because of lack of financial recources. We had the idea that the best solution to this problem would be to organise the group of volunteers-interpreters whose help guarantees a better quality access to healthcare for migrants. And we did it.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

First of all, offering the interpretation services for migrants in hospitals, we fill an important gap ignored by the state. Without this activity migrants' access to healthcare would be in many cases but illusion, as no communication between doctors and patients would be possible. Secondly, we are the only NGO in Poland which provides interpretation help in a systematical way. The coordinator of the Volunteer Center is permanently in touch with the medical staff from several centers for asylum seekers based near Warsaw. She gets informed about the visits' schedule and puts in touch patients with volunteers. Proceeding this way we manage to cover around 100 visits per month. Last but not least, we train our volunteers to work with the intercultural clients, we provide information about the culture of their countries of origin and the cultural differences, we also teach them about forced migrants' rights. Therefore, while working in the field, they are more than ordinary interpreters, they become "intercultural guides" explaining to migrants the Polish reality, but also helping the medical staff in hospitals to understand and accept some migrants’ behaviors which first might seem strange. They also make sure that the migrants' rights are respected.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We focus on several lines running our Volunteer Center. We activate a group of young people (mainly students) to use their language skills in order to help the vulnerable population of the forced migrants. Accompanying them as interpreters in different everyday life situations, they manage to achieve several goals. First of all, volunteers help migrants to communicate and to understand a new reality they are going to start their lives in, which is extremely important in their adaptation process. They teach migrants their rights and they make sure that their rights are observed. Focusing on the interpretation during the medical visits they guarantee a better quality access to healthcare which is one of the basic human and civic rights. Secondly, they help both groups, the local society as well as migrants, to understand, tolerate and accept the intercultural differences. It happens quite often that migrants do not trust the doctors, because the treatment patterns they know from their cultures are different. On the other hand, the doctors often loose patience interpreting some of migrants’ behaviors as irresponsible or offending. The presence of the volunteers-“intercultural interpretors” helps to reduce misunderstandings and leeds to a compromise and mutual tolerance. Such activities help also volunteers to improve thier own language skills in practice and they develop responsible and conscious conduct in a spirit of good citizenship.
About You
Association for Legal Intervention
Section 1: You
First Name


Last Name



Association for Legal Intervention


, MZ

Section 2: Your Organization
Organization Name

Association for Legal Intervention

Organization Phone

+4822 621-51-62

Organization Address

Al. 3 Maja 12/510, 00-391 Warsaw, Poland

Organization Country
Your idea
Country and state your work focuses on

, MZ

Do you have a patent for this idea?


The coordinator of the Volunteer Center organized a group of around 10 volunteers willing to help migrants as interpreters and trained them to work with the intercultural client.

Then she made contact with all the reception centers for asylum seekers in Warsaw and its surroundings (6 centers for today). The residents from these centers are referred by their GPs to several hospitals in Warsaw. The nurses inform the Volunteer Center’s coordinator about the time and place of the visit and the coordinator finds a volunteer and arranges the appointment with the patient.

The volunteers, apart from interpreting the language and cultural differences, take care of an efficient flow of information between the specialists and the GP and nurses from the asylum seekers’ centers.

New volunteers are permanently recruited and prepared to the field work. Once per year we organize an extensive training for the new volunteers.


The expected result of our Volunteer Center’s activities is to improve the quality of migrants’ access to healthcare. The presence of the interpreter facilitates the communication between doctor and patient, sometimes even making it simply possible.

With interpreter’s help doctors manage to fully understand patients’ problems and to propose the adequate treatment. Patients can understand doctors’ explanations concerning their health condition and get to know how to properly follow the recommendations concerning treatment.

One of the results already achieved was to persuade Polish authorities that such an activity is necessary, as a couple of years ago they did not even want to notice the problem. The next step would be to employ some interpreters permanently and to persuade the authorities that they have to participate financially, as it is impossible to cover all the needs basing only on the volunteers work.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

First year:
Development of our project will require engagement of more volunteers but also employment of a permanent interpreter in at least two hospitals where asylum seekers are referred most frequently. With interpretation services based only on volunteer work we can help less than 100 people per month, which is already a lot but far from covering the whole demand (according to the International Humanitarian Initiative’s report The Access to Medical and Psychological Assistance of Pregnant Women, Mothers, Children & the Victims of Torture & War Trauma in the Centers for Aliens Applying for Refugee Status or Asylum in Poland, , in 2008 there were 9.439 secondary care visits and 2.337 hospitalized patients). If there are interpreters employed permanently in some hospitals, then together with the volunteers work in other hospitals, we could meet the majority of needs.

Second year:
We would like to persuade the authorities that it is under their responsibility to guarantee a full quality access to healthcare for forced migrants, which means, among others, participating financially in providing interpretation services. From our side we would propose the model that we would had already worked out, we would also share our experience in working with intercultural patients by providing trainings for the staff employed by the Office for Foreigners or we would propose to employ some of the interpreters who would have already worked with us. We would also ensure to cover all the uncovered needs by the volunteers’ help.

Third year:
Continuation of the activities, hopefully in close collaboration with the Office for Foreigners and their financial input.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Financial support is crucial for the continuation of our project. Without funding the coordination of the volunteers’ work would not be possible (time, phone calls, etc.). Without additional funding employing the permanent interpreter will not be possible either.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, MZ

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Association for Legal Intervention

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

The Foreigners Section of our Association focuses on different activities such as legal advice on individual matters, integration and intercultural consultations, accompanying migrants as interpreters, monitoring of observation of the law, providing information and education.

Such activities require a very close collaboration with other NGOs working in the migration field, as well as with Office for Foreigners, local authorities, social help centers and institutions such as schools, hospitals, research centers, etc. Our organization is very well known and respected among the above mentioned environment, we have a good experience in such collaboration.
We intend to create an informal coalition to promote the idea of introducing permanently accessible and co-financed by the State interpretation services for migrants in hospitals.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

First of all we need to find resources to employ the interpreters in hospitals.
Then, basing on our good experience, we would need to persuade the authorities that in the future it should be under their responsibility to finance the interpretation services for migrants. The role of the NGOs would be to support such activities but not to provide them.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

The Association for Legal Intervention was established in May 2005 and divided into 4 sections: Foreigners Section, Family Section, Restorative Justice Section and “Freedom” Section. Our mission is to help anyone who is discriminated against and in threat of marginalisation by providing them with indispensable legal and social aid.

Since the very beginning we have been providing legal and integration assistance for foreigners, mainly for forced migrants: asylum seekers and refugees; after some time we started also a project providing assistance to all migrants in Poland. We represent them in the administration procedure, we help them in the official matters and in all kind of integration matters, i.e. getting jobs, finding flats, putting children in schools and kindergartens, etc. We intervene when the migrants’ rights are violated, we attempt to change discriminatory regulations or practices.

We understood very quickly that a legal or integration advice is not enough, especially at the beginning of migrant’s life in Poland. What they really need is to be accompanied by an open-minded person who could help not only as an ordinary interpreter but also as an intercultural interpreter and guide. We decided to extend our legal assistance and by the end of 2006 started to run a Volunteer Center.

Our volunteers accompany migrants as interpreters in all kind of situations, but most often during their medical visits. We decided to focus on interpretation services in hospitals because we noticed it was a gap of a big importance and completely ignored by the state. Refugees have in theory almost the same access to healthcare as nationals, but in practice very often the language barrier would turn the medical consultation useless or even led to a refusal to admit a migrant patient. Many forced migrants come from places affected by military conflicts, so majority of them need urgent and complex medical and psychological/psychiatric care. As the time of waiting for a specialist visit in Poland is very long, a failure to communicate with a doctor or to be admitted because of language barrier is additionally frustrating

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Witold Klaus has established Poland’s first true legal resources centre, the Association for Legal Intervention (ALI) to systematically reduce discrimination against Poland’s marginalized groups.
Through the centre and their unique strategy, Witold and his associates not only offer legal counsel to individual disempowered clients, but also more importantly, build a body of needed interventions with administrators and bureaucrats within the law to change public and social
policy so that all people in Poland can enjoy full citizenship. Through its dozens of case studies and extensive research, ALI has developed a more comprehensive understanding of legal exclusion and discrimination in Poland, and is now helping coordinate the activities of various
institutions serving the same purpose so that together they can be more successful in eliminating the legal discrimination of disadvantaged groups.

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