August 30, 2018 8:00 am

Edmonton councillor questions province on disparity in refugee health services

Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen during a meeting at City Hall on April 4, 2018.

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While doing an annual review of how Edmonton has welcomed and cared for Syrian refugees, city councillors got some startling news.

Erikk Ambtman, executive director of the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers pointed out a disparity to council’s community services committee on Wednesday.

Calgary has a refugee health centre, financed by Alberta Health Services. Edmonton does not.

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READ MORE: How Alberta is preparing for up to 3,000 Syrian refugees

Coun. Scott McKeen was fuming.

“It creates all sorts of side effects,” he told reporters. “If we’re driving newcomers and refugees to emergency rooms, it’s not ideal if they don’t speak the language.”

“It probably costs the system time and efficiency.”

McKeen also said it’s not as welcoming. Yet he wonders if the decision made it all the way up the information chain at the legislature, to the political level.

READ MORE: Newcomers group shares Canadian traditions with refugees

“I would be shocked to hear that this provincial cabinet would turn down refugee health services in Edmonton but have it for Calgary. They have some explaining to do.”

“There (is) such an obvious and needed service… when you drop 2,500 refugees in a city from a war-torn country and you don’t have health services for them — it’s ridiculous.”

WATCH: The province is putting the final pieces in place to accommodate more Syrian refugees in Alberta. Tom Vernon has the details.

READ MORE: City of Edmonton hears how Syrian resettlement is going

McKeen said Edmonton probably didn’t notice the disparity because the community does such a good job of picking up the slack.

“We don’t whine and yell as loud as we should but frankly next time I see an MLA, she or he is going to get an earful.”

READ MORE: Edmonton agencies nearing 1 year anniversary of helping Syrian refugees

As of Jan. 29, 2017, the federal government reported that 40,081 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada, according to the report reviewed by the council committee.

The latest numbers provided by partner agencies stated that as of May 31, 2018, 6,245 Syrian refugees had resettled in Alberta. Of these, 2,550 were resettled in Edmonton.

WATCH: There have been delays in getting baby Yousef, a Syrian refugee new to Alberta, the medical care that he needs—and his mom has her own health issues. Global’s Stefan Keyes explains how Calgary volunteers are helping to provide much-needed support, and what is still needed.

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