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A refugee camp in the centre of Europe: clinical characteristics of asylum seekers arriving in Brussels
  1. Gerlant van Berlaer1,2,
  2. Francisca Bohle Carbonell3,
  3. Sofie Manantsoa3,
  4. Xavier de Béthune3,
  5. Ronald Buyl4,
  6. Michel Debacker2,
  7. Ives Hubloue1,2
  1. 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
  2. 2Research Group on Emergency and Disaster Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
  3. 3Medical Department, Operations Department, Médecins du Monde/Doctors of the World Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
  4. 4Department of Public Health, Biostatistics and Medical Informatics Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gerlant van Berlaer; gerlant.vanberlaer{at}


Background In the summer of 2015, the exodus of Syrian war refugees and saturation of refugee camps in neighbouring countries led to the influx of asylum-seekers in European countries, including Belgium. This study aims to describe the demographic and clinical characteristics of asylum seekers who arrived in a huddled refugee camp, in the centre of a well-developed country with all medical facilities.

Methods Using a descriptive cross-sectional study design, physicians of Médecins du Monde prospectively registered age, gender, origin, medical symptoms and diagnoses of all patients presenting to an erected field hospital in Brussels in September 2015. Diagnoses were post hoc categorised according to the International Classification of Diseases.

Results Of 4037 patients examined in the field hospital, 3907 were included and analysed for this study. Over 11% of patients suffered from injuries, but these were outnumbered by the proportion of patients with respiratory (36%), dental (9%), skin (9%) and digestive (8%) diagnoses. More than 49% had features of infections at the time of the consultation.

Conclusions Asylum seekers arriving in a refugee camp in Brussels after a long and hazardous journey suffer mostly from respiratory, dental, skin and digestive diseases. Still, one in seven suffers from injury. These findings, consistent with other reports, should be anticipated when composing emergency medical teams and interagency emergency health or similar kits to be used in a field hospital, even in a Western European country.

Trial registration number ISRCTN13523620, Results.


This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors GvB, FBC, SM and RB conceived and designed the study. GvB, FBC, SM, XdB acquired the data. RB, GvB, XdB and SM analysed and interpreted the data. GvB, FBC, SM, XdB and RB drafted the article. GvB, FBC, SM, XdB, RB, MD and IH revised the article. GvB, FBC, SM, XdB, RB, MD and IH approved the final version of the article to be published.

  • Funding Fees for open access publication will be paid by the Research Group on Emergency and Disaster Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Approval of the Commission of Medical Ethics (O.G. 016) of the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, Brussels, Belgium was obtained (B.U.N. 143201526433).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Extra data can be accessed via the Dryad data repository at with the doi:10.5061/dryad.p9b21. A data sharing and research collaboration agreement was signed between Médecins du Monde and the Research Group on Emergency and Disaster Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

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