Harper government axes healthcare for refugees
By Diane Wood and Byron Cruz
I spoke to health care worker and licensed homeopath Byron Cruz about the cuts to healthcare for refugees since Bill C31 became law on June 30 2012, or as he calls it “The Refugee Exclusion Act.” Interim Federal Health, which is health insurance for new refugee claimants, was cut allegedly to
save $20 MILLION a year. Mr. Kenny claimed it was necessary because refugees had MORE access to health care than “regular” Canadians. This divide-and-conquer strategy prompted an angry xenophobic out-pouring of racist letters to the editor.
Since June 30, refugee claimants are no longer able to access health care, medications, visit a doctor, or go to a specialist. What is going to happen to refugees who have diabetes, epilepsy, or heart diseases? How many pregnant refugees and their babies are at risk of serious consequences including death?
I am sure that you disagree with these inhumane cuts to the Interim Federal Health for refugees. I am sure that as residents of the DTES you are also concerned because you have lived with decades of inhumane living conditions, oppression and bureaucratic experimental health care.
Refugee claimants are also part of the DTES, they are also homeless, they also experience discrimination in food lines, and all while being portrayed as little more than drug dealers in the mainstream media.
Immigrants and refugees didn’t come to Canada to abuse the health care system. Rather, Latin American refugees help to build this community – they bring their cultural life to Oppenheimer Park, they contribute to the beautiful community gardens, and they started the first community kitchens
in the area. They also started the first needle and condom pick up program, participate in DTES health fairs, the Vancouver youth health fairs, and the Day of the Dead. They have also participated in demonstrations to support the supervised injection site, and against police brutality.
I invite you to the vigil organized by Sanctuary Health for Refugees and Migrants. We will meet on Thursday, August 2, from 6 to 8 pm in front of St. Paul’s Hospital. You are welcome to join us and show your support and solidarity, by helping to paint a large banner expressing how we feel about Bill C31.
We will demand that:
1) The federal government restore health care for refugee claimants, and;
2) The BC ministry of health remove any barriers to refugees to obtain Medical Services Plan.
We will also congratulate and support Vancouver Coastal Health for continuing to see refugee claimants at Bridge Health Clinic (2450 Ontario St. at 8th) and encourage them to serve refugee claimants in all medical sites.
Byron and the Latin American Community fought the changes being proposed by Jason Kenny. Initially refugee claimants had no access whatsoever to healthcare or medication. The only illnesses they would cover were ones that could “pose a risk to the public” meaning something that was
transmissible, like TB or HIV. They organized 3 forums, and with a group of politically active youth created a Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Immigrants.
Health care providers and social workers came together for a national day of action June 18 to demonstrate against the health cuts. They said the refugees got better care in the camps from NGOs, how is it possible to bring them here and cut it off? Health care is a basic human right. Due to this national pressure, Mr. Kenny softened his hard line a little, and quietly changed to allow a group of government sponsored refugees to receive medical care, although he was unwilling to admit publicly he’d made a mistake. Refugees are labeled as to whether they come from a designated or non-designated country. A special commission was advising the Refugee Board in which countries human rights abuses were occurring. With the new law, he took away that commission and makes that decision himself. According to him, “Designated” countries do not normally produce refugees. Their hearings are held in 30 – 45 days and slated for quick deportation. Mexico will be called a country that doesn’t produce refugees because of our economic and mining ties. The Roma people fleeing from persecution in European countries will also be in this group.