Speak out for refugees in Canada on World Refugee Day 2013

By Gloria Nafziger,
Campaigner for Human Rights of Refugees and Migrants

On June 17 health professionals across Canada held rallies demanding the government reverse changes to health care for refugees which were made one year ago. The changes have put the lives of some refugees and asylum seekers at risk in Canada.  Doctors have reported cases of children who can’t get medication for asthma; pregnant women denied medications while in labour; and fathers who can’t get medication for high blood pressure and diabetes.  As a result of the cuts to health care many refugees end up being treated in emergency rooms after being turned away from walk-in clinics.

Denying access to health care for refugees is one of many measures the Canadian government has taken to prevent or discourage people in search of safety from making refugee claims in Canada. In the past year Canada has passed new laws which treat refugees differently according to what country they come from and how they arrive in Canada.  The net result is less protection for people seeking safety and laws which contravene our international obligations.

Changes to healthcare introduced in Canada last year means that some refugees cannot see a doctor. And some are denied treatment because it is not clear if they are eligible for care.

Canada is not alone in its efforts to stem the arrival of refugees and violate international agreements.

European Union countries engage in border management practices that put migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees at risk. In March Greek authorities found the bodies of six Syrian nationals including a 17-year-old pregnant woman and a mother with her young children in the waters between Turkey and Greece.  As border controls become tighter, people take more and more dangerous routes in search of safety. Many others have forced people back to countries where the risk of human rights abuses, including torture and arbitrary detention, is well known. Many of those who manage to enter Europe end up being detained for long periods of time.  Some countries have introduced criminal penalties for those who arrive in an irregular manner and punish people who help irregular migrants.

In Mexico men, women and children take one of the most dangerous journeys in the world. They travel on the top of trains across Mexico with the hope of reaching the US border. Each year thousands of migrants are abducted, beaten, raped, tortured and forced to work for criminal gangs which prey on the migrants.  Public officials often collude with these criminal gangs. Most abuses are not investigated adequately and those responsible are rarely held to account.  People working at shelters for migrants have faced threats and attacks for their humanitarian work. 

Syria’s brutal conflict has forced millions of men, women and children to seek shelter in other parts of the country and abroad.  More than 1.5 million have become refugees, mostly in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Some are in refugee camps, while others are staying with friends and relatives or in rented accommodation. UN humanitarian agencies have repeatedly expressed concern about the challenge they are facing to raise the necessary funds to look after the growing number of Syrian refugees. The conflict in Syria is being fought with utter disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law and thereby causing so much death, suffering and destruction. 

Canada’s health care professionals demonstrated that they believe in a country of compassion and justice. They recognize that refugees fleeing rape, torture, exile and trauma need laws that protect and systems that support. World Refugee Day is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of refugees to our country.  It should also be a day which celebrates the world’s commitment to protect refugees at home and abroad.

Take Action to ensure refugees in Canada have right to basic healthcare

Some refugees who have come to Canada in search of safety are now being denied basic, emergency, and life-saving medical care. Changes to healthcare introduced in Canada last year means that some refugees cannot see a doctor. And some are denied treatment because it is not clear if they are eligible for care.

Take action