Refugees on the Aegean, and beyond: An emergency nursing perspective on humanitarian aid work and primary care

Mr Michael Henley1

1Hunter New England Health: Tamworth Base Hospital, Tamworth, Australia, 2College of Emergency Nursing Australasia, Sydney, Australia

In recent years, the plight of people fleeing war and persecution internationally has escalated. In 2016, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees released statistics showing that there are now more people displaced, seeking asylum, or listed as a refugee, than ever before – including in the years following World War II. People escaping from such situations have very unique challenges in their healthcare needs, and delivering effective medical and nursing care to these populations often requires ambitious and unorthodox solutions.

In the August of 2016, I travelled to Greece to volunteer time working in Medical Clinics at Refugee Camps sheltering people fleeing from conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There, I had the opportunity to work with multiple Non-Government Organisations to deliver care to a diverse variety of ethnic groups with various chronic and acute conditions; ranging from acute illness and injury occurring inside the camps, to the lasting mental trauma from experiences they have fled from, to pregnancies, and chronic conditions no longer manageable in a tent. All in all, the experience was both challenging and rewarding, emotional and enlightening.

This presentation will outline the setting, nature, and challenges of delivering healthcare in the Humanitarian Aid setting, far removed from the familiarity of the Emergency Department. It will then explore the Authors’ personal experience of working in Greece in the above settings in 2016. At the time of writing, plans are underway to return to Greece in Mid-2017, and also assist at a newly established field hospital in Northern Iraq, serving up to 270,000 people displaced by conflict. This too will be outlined. Brief case studies and examples showing a cross-section of this unique population’s healthcare needs will also be discussed.


Michael is a Fourth year postgraduate Nurse, currently working in the Emergency Department of Tamworth Base Hospital in North Western New South Wales. From the outset he has embraced Emergency Nursing, with all the challenges and rewards it brings. Michael has a keen passion for  furthering the speciality of Emergency Nursing and recently became a Committee Member of the CENA NSW branch. A multivariate experience such as working as a Senior Duty RN in a small district hospital (as a Graduate Nurse!), ride-along opportunities taken with the RFDS, and annual leave spent volunteering in Medical clinics in Refugee camps overseas, have all left Michael with an appreciation for the way Emergency nursing care can be delivered in less than typical circumstances.