AG Refugee and Migrant Health

Our research group consists of experts with different backgrounds (Public Health, Epidemiology, Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine). We are part of various expert groups, regularly present our results at national and international conferences and act as consultants for scientific and public health projects for different organisations and institutions in the field of migration and refugee health.

We conduct research and public health projects within Switzerland and abroad in the field of migration and refugee health. Our research activities are in different working areas. We are engaged in public health projects investigating the health status of migrants and refugees, disease profiles and access to care in Switzerland and globally. This includes exploring and uncovering barriers in access to health care.

Further investigations focus on the impact of the work on the mental health of refugee aid workers (RAWs). Studies have shown that their work contributes to elevated levels of psychological distress and can lead to various emotional disorders, like burnout, depression or PTSD. Strengthening the mental wellbeing of RAWs, in turn, can lead to better (health) care for refugees, as they can only provide adequate care if they maintain and promote their own physical and mental health.

Selection of current projects

Studies at the Emergency Departement
The University Hospital of Bern (Inselspital) is one of the largest hospitals in Switzerland, with a catchment area of 1.8 million people. The Emergency Department is a Level 1 clinic, part of the «Swiss Hospitals for Equity» network and consists of an interdisciplinary team with round-the-clock access to all medical specialties. In total, we treat over 50,000 patients from 148 countries a year, of whom about half are self-referrals. An essential part of the emergency department is the integrated outpatient emergency clinic (Fast Track) for scheduled and unscheduled consultations, often of patients with less acute complaints. It also serves as primary care provider for patients who have difficulties to access the local health care system (e.g. due to language or socio-economic reasons), especially for patients with a migration background. At the ED, we conduct pro- and retrospective studies about health literacy, disease profiles/health problems and patient characteristics of patients with migration background, such as patient consultations of asylum seekers in comparison with Swiss Nationals. Additionally, we are investigating reasons for consultations and barriers in access to healthcare among others.

Lesbos, Greece:
The aim of this project was to assess the impacts of living in a refugee camp and of the Covid-19 pandemic on refugee´s health status and to explore and identify current physical and mental health problems and barriers to adequate healthcare for refugees in camps in Greece in general and during the Covid-19 pandemic. We conducted three different studies: an assessment of medical consultations in two different refugee camps in Lesbos, a survey among refugees and semi-structured interviews with local authorities, healthcare providers and refugees. Results were discussed with refugee representatives and local governmental and non-governmental organization`s representatives and an action plan was established. The project was implemented in close collaboration with MSc “Global Health – Disaster Medicine” School of Medicine, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA).

Support of refugee aid workers mental health:
We conducted an observational survey over the period of 8 months with 3 measurement points over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic with refugee aid workers, which assessed the impact of their work and of the pandemic on their mental health. Furthermore, we created a brief awareness and training program, in the form of an online mental health workshop week in December 2020 together with WHO Greece and the University of Athens. The program aimed to promote mental health and to support individuals, specifically frontline refugee aid workers. In addition, in collaboration with the TPH and the Universities of Athens and Zurich, we are planning an intervention to support and strengthen the mental health of refugee aid workers, and this will be implemented from 01/2022 until 06/2023.

Special Issue, 2019 published in IJERPH:
Under the leadership of Professor Exadaktylos, a special edition of the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health“ was published on the topic “Health of Refugees and Migrants“. There were 37 publications from all over Europe included in this special edition. The ECDC studies are particularly worth mentioning, as they were published as a European guideline. This open access and peer reviewed journal has an impact factor of 3.390.

Together with different experts on migration medicine from all around Switzerland and abroad, as well as with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, we are currently writing a book with the title: “Swiss Handbook on Healthcare for Migrants and Refugees ”.
The Book will be published this year (2022) by the Hogrefe Press in Bern.

You will be informed here, once as we know the date of release.

List of PUblications

Extended list of publications here:

Teaching Activities

We are actively involved in teaching refugee & migrant health at different universities in Switzerland and Greece and supervise medical students within their academic work.

If you´re looking for an opportunity to do your master thesis or dissertation in the field of migration & refugee health, feel free to contact us.

Lectures at conferences

Regular lectures at national and international conferences

11/11/2021 Round table: Strengthening refugee aid workers resilience during the pandemic and beyond – 14th European Public Health Conference 2021 “Public health futures in a changing world”, virtual event, 10 – 12 November 2021

12/12/2020 Why is it important to support mental health of refugee aid workers: Introduction and preliminary results of the Refugee Aid Worker Study. – Mental Health Week: Empower refugee aid workers in Greek Camps: How to advance their knowledge and skills and strengthen their psychosocial resilience, virtual event, 07 – 13 December 2020

25/10/2020 Roles and Responsibilities in medical emergency situations – People on the move conference – 2nd Hands on course, Athens, Greece

15/10/2020 Round table discussion: Refugee Mental Health: Building Clinical and Research Capacity through Innovative Partnerships – 16th World Congress on Public Health 2020 “Public health for the future of humanity: analysis, advocacy and action”, online event, 12 – 16 October 2020

25/02/2020 The medical triage at first contact – People on the move conference – 1st Hands on course, Island of Lesbos, Greece

15/10/2019 Research, Standard Operating Procedures and Policy in Refugee Health – Conference on Equity in Healthcare, Bern, Switzerland

Organization of academic/scientific events

Yearly – next 09/09/2022        Swiss Symposium of Refugee and Migrant Health

29/08 – 08/09/2022                 Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health

                                                Apply here:

07/12 – 13/12/2020                 Mental Health Week: Empower refugee aid workers in Greek
                                                Camps: How to advance their knowledge and skills and strengthen their
                                                psychosocial resilience.
                                                Co-Organized together with MSc Global Health - Disaster Medicine,
                                                Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
                                                and WHO Greece; virtual event

Research Cooperations

  • MSc programme “Global Health – Disaster Medicine”, Faculty of Medicine, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  • Trauma and Global Mental Health Lab, the New School for Social Research, New York, USA
  • IOM’s Research Partners Panel
  • Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute Basel
  • Outpatient Clinic for Victims of Torture and War, University Hospital Zurich
  • Swiss Hospitals for Equity network

Third-party funding

The work of the Refugee and Migrant Health Research Group is supported by

06/2022 – 12/2023 Grant by the Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft (FAG), Basel

01/2022 – 06/2023 Grant by the R-Geigy-Foundation

05/2021 – 09/2022 Grant of the continuing education fund, University of Bern 

09/2020 – 03/2021 Grant by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF)

09/2020 – 03/2021 Grant by the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM)

Staff members at Inselspital

  • Prof. Dr. med. Aristomenis Exadaktylos, director emergency department
  • Dr. med. Karsten Klingberg, senior physician, emergency department
  • PD Dr. med. Martin Müller, senior physician, emergency department
  • Dr. phil. Julia Brandenberger, senior physician, emergency center for children and adolescents

MD- and Masterstudents ongoing

  • Saier, Mila Silvia (Masterthesis)
  • Ricardo Muster (Dissertation)
  • Elena Ruckstuhl (Dissertation)
  • Loser, Alessandra (Dissertation)
  • Marcelline von Gradowski (Dissertation)
  • Rabia Saffuri (Dissertation)
  • Radwan Fashtol (Masterthesis MSc “Global Health – Disaster Medicine”, Greece)

MD- and Masterstudents completed

  • Rolli, Sandra Eliane (Masterthesis, 2022)
  • Adrian Stoller (Dissertation, 2020)
  • Al-Muaid, Malekah (Masterthesis, 2020)
  • Gschwend, Camille Jirina (Masterthesis, 2019)

Previous Work

PD David Srivastava, founder of the former Migration Medicine and ED Management Research Group, conducted important fundamental work in analyzing the health problems of asylum seekers and migrants who consulted the ED the past years. Sadly, we had to let him go, as he moved on to new tasks as Deputy Head of General and Emergency Medicine at Hirslanden Bern. We wish him all the best in his responsible work and look forward to further cooperation with the Refugee and Migrant Health research group in the future.

Overview of Davids scientific work: