Doctors and medical students: Health care for all, including refugees
In a shocking move, the Canadian government is cutting access to health care for refugees across Canada starting on June 30. Health groups are loudly denouncing cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) that provides temporary healthcare to refugees and asylum seekers in Canada.
Disregard for health and human rights
If these cuts are implemented, all refugees will lose access to essential medications, and thousands designated as coming from ‘safe countries’ will be denied healthcare services altogether, even in the case of life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks. These cuts highlight the current government’s utter disregard for health and human rights and they will leave refugees, an already vulnerable group, struggling harder for survival.
As a group of health care workers and allies who work with migrant communities, we see cuts to the IFHP as fundamentally unjust and part of a larger pattern. Over the past few years, we have seen progressively harsher immigration restrictions as Jason Kenney, our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, seeks to fundamentally transform Canada’s immigration system.
In addition to the draconian cuts to the IFHP, the Harper government is pushing for the adoption of controversial Bill C-31.
The proposed bill, now passed third reading in the House of Commons, would grant Minister Kenney the arbitrary authority to designate certain countries as ‘safe.’ Claimants from these countries will be processed through the system with the unfair presumption that they are ‘bogus’ claimants, effectively fast-tracking deportations.
The case of failed refugee claimant Grise, a 24 year-old woman who came to Canada fearing for her life, highlights the dangers of this approach. Soon after being deported back to Mexico,Grise was murdered. Mexico is widely expected to be designated as ‘safe’ by Kenney.
The reality is that the stories of individual refugees are complex. In designating entire countries as ‘safe,’ Minister Kenney effectively denies refugees their basic human right to a fair process. As tragically illustrated in Grise’s case, Mexico could not ensure her safety, and the blanket designation of ‘safe’ countries will contribute to Canada’s already dysfunctional refugee determination process by worsening the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of refugee claimants. In particular, it will disproportionately impact women, individuals from LGBTQ communities and racial minorities fleeing persecution based on gender, sexuality and race.
Furthermore, under Bill C-31, Kenney plans to introduce mandatory detention for asylum seekers deemed to be ‘irregular arrivals,’ with limited opportunities for review. The designation of what constitutes an ‘irregular arrival’ is arbitrary, and arbitrary detention contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Canada is a signatory.
Moreover, significant research points to the ill health effects of detention on mental and physical health. Studies show that detention increases the risk of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and self-harm behaviours in refugees. Under this bill, families will be torn apart, treated as criminals and denied basic human rights, all of which is detrimental to their health.
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