As Canada welcomes Syrians, other refugees still lack health care

A niece hugs her uncle for the first time in five years at the Edmonton International Airport as another family of Syrian refugees arrives in Alberta's capital ahead of many more expected by March, 2016. Global News

Canada’s poised to welcome the first planeload of Syrian refugees Thursday evening as part of the federal Liberals’ much-touted pledge to resettle 10,000 (formerly 25,000) by the end of this month.

But the government still hasn’t followed through on its election promise to reverse health cuts to refugee care made under the previous government three years ago.

READ MORE: What’s the deal with refugee health care?

“The Government is committed to restoring the Interim Federal Health Program. We are currently working towards that goal,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Nancy Caron said in an email to Global News Thursday evening.

But the feds have made a special provision to ensure Syrian refugees get the full slate of health care as other privately sponsored refugees and asylum-seekers in limbo get turned away.

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“The current Interim Federal Health Program includes provisions that allow the Minister to extend the coverage available to an individual or group,” Caron wrote.

“In this case, full IFHP benefits, known as ‘Type 1’ coverage, is being made available to all of the Syrian refugees arriving in Canada as part of this initiative. We will have more details available soon.”

Caron wouldn’t say when the health cuts will be reversed for all refugees.

READ MORE: Canada’s scrambling to resettle Syrian refugees but won’t say when health care will be restored

About 20,000 refugees come to Canada per year, from dozens of countries. Canada is in the midst of several multi-year commitments to resettle refugees from Eritrea, Sudan, Iraq, Bhutan, Turkey and elsewhere.

A federal court called the 2012 cuts to refugee care “cruel and unusual.” The then-governing Conservatives appealed that ruling and hadn’t reinstated refugee health care when the Liberals defeated them in October.

Restoring full refugee health care was one of the Liberals’ campaign promises. Both Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum and Health Minister Jane Philpott have reaffirmed that pledge.

WATCH: Philpott on Syrian refugee health care

It isn’t clear why that hasn’t happened.

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In the meantime, privately sponsored refugees, people whose claims are in limbo or who are making an “inland” refugee claim after having arrived in Canada don’t get the full benefits of their counterparts.

In response to the cuts Ontario, Quebec and other provinces put in place stopgap refugee health coverage of their own.

But the ensuing system was so confusing, the paperwork so arduous for often-overworked health practitioners, that many stopped treating refugees altogether.

As Global News reported earlier this year, even those who qualify for health coverage sometimes get turned away.

Advocates have said this is bad for both vulnerable people and public health: When people delay seeking treatment because they can’t afford to pay for it, they get sicker and pose a risk to other people if they have an infectious disease.

They’re also more likely to need much more expensive emergency treatment later on.


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