Friday, 19 October 2012

We are all human, we all get injured, we all get sick:
Health Care is a Right for Everyone


A Refugee is any person who is forced to leave their home country for life-saving reasons.   Canada is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 UN Protocol on the Status of Refugees and has in the past been a global leader in the provision of respectful treatment of those seeking refuge – this is changing quickly.

The recent drastic changes to the Interim Federal Health Program now deny approximately 95% of refugees in Canada all access to primary and preventative health care as well as the supplemental health care that is provided for many low-income Canadians.  The Conservative government has promoted the cuts as only removing health care “extras” – but prenatal care, medicine, lab testing and the other affected services are vital elements of good healthcare.

Most refugees can now only access medical care in cases of life-threatening emergency.  Refugees who are from “Designated Countries of Origin” (DCO) cannot even access these limited emergency-only services.  A DCO is anywhere that Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, says is a ‘safe’ place – as we all know, no country can be safe for every person.

The only health services that all refugees are now technically entitled to are in cases of ‘public health concern’ (someone with a highly infectious disease) or ‘public security concern’ (someone with a psychotic condition that the state or a doctor considers dangerous to the public).  This policy basically says that refugee medical care should only be provided to protect “us” from “them”, pitting people who have citizenship in Canada against those who have less secure status in this country.  

These cuts will leave many people sick and injured without proper care, overloading the already overcrowded emergency rooms and forcing the provinces to pick up the bill.  Ultimately this creates a kind of medical apartheid, where some people are “worth” health care while people who are actually among those most in need are abandoned.

The situation is also dire for migrant workers.  Workers brought to Canada under programs like the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program are forced to purchase private insurance which is often not honoured when they need to use it at clinics and hospitals.  These workers are vulnerable because they have no permanent status in Canada. They are often exposed to dangerous and unhealthy working and living conditions.  Sometimes they get sick or injured on the job, and employers may attempt to have them deported because this is cheaper than reporting to Worksafe/WCB.

These changes are happening at a time when all immigrants (even those who have permanent residency or citizenship), refugees and undocumented people in Canada are facing policies of increased scrutiny and widespread threats of deportation.  Health-care providers and community groups across the country are organizing to support refugees, migrants and undocumented people’s health care needs, despite the Federal Government’s cruel actions.

We believe in health care for all, provided as a human right regardless of where you are from or how much money you have!

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