Refugees and their advocates score a point

Melodi's picture

A round of applause for the federal government, please. Some of the recently proposed reforms to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) for refugees have been withdrawn.

Before June 30th, the IFHP provided all refugees with basics like prescription drugs, vision care, dental care, and treatment for pregnant women, diabetics, and those experiencing cardiac arrest. But the reforms set out by the government in April established that refugees would no longer receive this free non-emergency medical care. Heart attacks best had before June 30th, asylum seekers.

All of this in the name of equity and fairness, said the government. Apparently refugees whose homes and livelihoods have just gone up in smoke and whose futures depend on the goodwill of strangers should have to pay for their medical needs just like middle-income Canadians. Never mind that the average middle-income Canadian hasn’t fled a war or famine-torn country or experienced life-threatening persecution, and has, well, income. Never mind that some Canadians, like those on social assistance, do receive these medical benefits.

However, last Friday, the Canadian Immigration website was changed to note that the initial proposition to exclude all “protected persons” from supplementary health care benefits now exempts Government Assisted Refugees (GARS – refugees that are selected from abroad) and privately sponsored refugees that receive government support. In other words, GARS and some privately sponsored refugees can have inhalers for their asthma and insulin for their diabetes. A point for humanity!

This change of direction has come in response to gale-force protests from health professionals and refugee advocates nation-wide, including groups like the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association. From a joint letter, to occupying a minister’s office, to interrupting press conferences, the medical community has made clear that these reforms are egregious and unacceptable. CPJ has also shown its support, joining doctors, social workers, and refugee advocates on a National Day of Action on Parliament Hill.

Of course, the government insists that this revision of the health care reforms was the plan all along. The medical community, who have had hawk eyes on the proposed legislation from the beginning, know better. And although the remaining refugee health care reforms are still a huge problem, they’re tooting their horns about the improvement.

“We’re going to applaud the government for their decision to back down on the cuts to refugee health,” said Doctor Rashid, a Toronto physician and member of Doctors for Refugee Health, in a report by the Ottawa Citizen. “Even if they haven’t stated they’re doing it, we do we feel they ought to be recognized for it.”

So, while the government tries to explain the mystery of retroactive decision-making, we’ll take it as a victory for refugees and refugee advocates, and as an indication that short-sighted reforms to refugee health care, and other damaging policies, can be reversed when citizens make the case for public justice.

Melodi Alopaeus is CPJ’s former policy intern.

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