Protests against refugee health cuts planned in 10 Canadian cities
TheStar.com – news
Published On Sun Jun 17 2012. Nicholas Keung, Immigration Reporter
In two weeks, Mohammad Asif will have to choose between food for his three young children and medication for his ill wife, when Ottawa’s planned cuts to refugee health care come into effect.
“I need to decide if my kids should suffer hunger or let my wife go without her medicines,” said the 35-year-old Afghan man, who worked for the Canadian military in Kandahar for three years before his family resettled here as government-sponsored refugees last year.
On Monday, demonstrations are planned in 10 Canadian cities from St. John’s to Vancouver — and including Toronto — to demand the federal government reverse the cuts, which take effect June 30.
In Toronto, a rally will be held at 1 p.m. outside the immigration office on St. Clair Ave. E.
Asif’s wife suffers from an ulcer and chronic anemia — conditions common among refugees due to poor nutrition and a lack of medical care back home — and requires regular prescribed drugs, currently covered by the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).
But Asif’s wife is a minority of lucky ones because, as a resettled refugee, she will only lose her monthly $150 medication coverage and can still access other health services afforded under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
Other asylum seekers will see much of their health coverage — from vaccinations to lab tests, diagnostic and ambulance services — gone unless their health condition puts public health at risk. Some of them also stand to lose pharmaceutical care, dentistry, vision care and access to devices such as walkers and wheelchairs.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said the changes will save Ottawa $100 million over five years and discourage “unfounded” refugees from taking advantage of Canada’s generosity.
His proposed cuts, however, have been met with growing opposition from the health-care sector concerned about the potential impact on the health of refugees and Canadians.
“Many health-care workers, especially in urban Canada, treat refugees on a daily basis. We listen to their stories of enduring war and violence and being separated from their families,” said Dr. Meb Rashid of the Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital
“We believe it is inhumane to deny them access to the health care they need to begin their new lives in Canada.”
Dr. Michael Stephenson of the Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services has been fielding inquiries from anxious refugee patients.
In one case, a family resettled here by the Canadian government from Iran feared the government would remove the wheelchairs currently provided to its three children, all suffering a genetic disease that impairs their movement.
“The economics of the health cuts just won’t work,’ said Stephenson. “It will make it much harder for us to do our job by removing the patients’ preventative medications and life-saving medicines.”
Hamidullah Amiry, who arrived in Canada with his wife and daughter in May from Afghanistan, is grateful his family does not have any health problems, but he, too, is worried.
“We are grateful that Canada opened its door for us,” said Amiry, 26, who worked for the Canadian force in Kabul and came as a government-sponsored refugee. “But you just don’t know when you are going to get sick.”
Monday’s national day of action is endorsed by 15 health-related professional bodies from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to the Canadian Paediatric Society, Canadian Nurses Association and Canadian Association of Social Workers.
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