London – More than half of the pregnant immigrant women seen by a medical charity in European clinics lack access to basic healthcare and permission to reside, the Medical Charity said on Monday.

The charity Doctors of the World said they interviewed more than 300 pregnant women in clinics from Belgium to Turkey.

They added that because of their illegal status, two thirds of the women restricted their movements for fear of arrest, hindering their access to antenatal care.

Many were living in substandard temporary accommodation, heightening health risks.

More than half had no access to antenatal care prior to consulting the charity, and of this group, most got medical attention only after the twelfth week of pregnancy, which is considered too late.

“Xenophobia, increasingly hazardous migration routes, poor detention conditions and the constant fear of expulsion awaits migrants who seek safety and refuge in Europe.

“Women in pregnancy are particularly at risk as over 80 per cent of the pregnant women had no healthcare coverage,’’ they said.

Midwives and other maternity staff should not act as gatekeepers to maternity services,” said Lesley Page, president of Britain’s Royal College of Midwives.

“They owe a duty of care to all pregnant women who seek care from them and they should provide care to all pregnant women irrespective of ability to pay.”

A lack of antenatal care to prevent and identify conditions that may harm the fetus or mother increases the risk of complications during childbirth or passing on diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis B, the World Health Organisation says.

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