Refugees in Austria are healthier than refugees in Germany


June 20 is World Refugee Day. A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE looks at the health situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Germany and Austria. Together with coauthors from Germany, researchers from WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) compared the self-reported health status of refugees in the two countries. One of their key findings: Unrestricted access to the health care system from day one, as provided in Austria, leads to better health.

Overall, refugees in Austria reported a better health status than refugees in Germany. “A good or very good health status was reported by nine out of ten refugees in Austria but only about seven out of ten in Germany. Structural differences between the respondents in terms of age, gender, country of origin, education, and partnership status only explain a small part of the observed discrepancy,” says Isabella Buber-Ennser (ÖAW), one of the authors of the study.

The researchers found that free access to health care services seems to play a significant role. In Austria, asylum seekers have unrestricted access to health care from day one, but in Germany  they have to wait for 15 months after filing their asylum application. The health disadvantages observed among refugees in Germany suggest that unrestricted access to health care could be instrumental in improving their health status.

Regarding the structural differences between the respondents, age and education had a stronger effect on self-reported health status than the time spent in the receiving country and the duration of the asylum procedure. The data indicate that many of the factors influencing people’s health are the same for refugees and the non-migrant population. This means that policies for improving the health of refugees can be based on the same approaches that are used to target the non-migrant population.

The researchers found that refugees from Afghanistan were significantly more likely to report a lower health status, which points to a need for nationality-specific and culturally sensitive treatments and health care services. The authors say that language skills, institutionalized knowledge, and social networks are important health resources and that strengthening these resources results in better health.

“We were able to identify women, the elderly, and people from Afghanistan as particularly vulnerable groups with a lower average health status. Specific treatments and preventive measures are needed for these target groups. After all, physical and mental health is an essential requirement for successful social and labor market integration,” says Judith Kohlenberger (WU), summarizing the key results of the study.


The study analyzes comparable and harmonized survey data from Austria and Germany for Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi nationals aged 18 to 59 years who immigrated between 2013 and 2016 (Germany: n = 2,854; Austria: n = 374). The study was carried out by researchers from WU Vienna, the Vienna Institute of Demography (Austrian Academy of Sciences), and the University of Rostock. It has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study

Daniela Georges, Isabella Buber-Ennser, Bernhard Rengs, Judith Kohlenberger, Gabriele Doblhammer: “Health determinants among refugees in Austria and Germany: A propensity-matched comparative study for Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees” Available at:

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