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Calgary welcomes hundreds to the largest ever North American Refugee Health Conference

Click to play video: 'Calgary welcomes hundreds to the largest ever North American Refugee Health Conference'
Calgary welcomes hundreds to the largest ever North American Refugee Health Conference
WATCH: Calgary is hosting the North American Refugee Health Conference this weekend and one of the issues being talked about is how to provide care for the large numbers of refugees coming to Canada. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, experts are warning that placing refugees into an already-strained health care system is a recipe for disaster. – Jul 21, 2023

Calgary is hosting the North American Refugee Health Conference this weekend and one of the issues being talked about is how to provide care for the large numbers of refugees coming to Canada.

Over 700 people are attending the weekend conference at the Telus Convention Centre.

As the son of political refugees from Uruguay, Dr. Gabriel Fabreau knows the struggles refugees face and the value they can bring.

He said everyone including refugees benefit from primary care because it’s efficient and that much more important at time when Canada is taking in many refugees.

“Our primary care system is on its knees,” Fabreau said.

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Edmonton man returns to Uganda to help refugees in camp where he lived

“The downside is when we lack good universal, primary care in the public health care system… as a society we eat those costs down stream.

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“If we do not ensure that they (refugees) are healthy then it’s frankly stupid.”

The University of Calgary assistant professor and general internist helped organize the conference.

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Mussie Yemane came to Canada from Eritrea as a refugee and is now an economist and a community scholar with Refugee Health YYC and says there is a broken bridge between the refugee health clinics and the wider health care system.

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Yemane says bringing refugees here is one thing, but following up is another and that’s where he says Canada is failing.

“The bridge has to be connected and when they bring them here, they shouldn’t leave them. They dump them in Calgary or Toronto. There should be a follow up,” Yemane said.

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He points to the case of a refugee who told him he hadn’t seen a doctor in four years.

“When (refugees) leave the refugee clinic, there’s  no communication — there’s no tracking so they fall through,” Yemane said.

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Canada has committed to welcoming at least 40,000 Afghan refugees by the end of the year.

Nearly 170,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since Russia’s invasion. Over 800,000 applications have been approved.

“(Ukranians) are coming in large numbers and they are being welcomed in large numbers. We do not have the capacity to manage all of the Ukrainian population,” Fabreau said.

“It’s a wonderful achievement, but if we do not have the health care capacity, the housing capacity and the education capacity to care for those people, we are going to inherit problems.”

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Because of many barriers, refugees often need help navigating the health care system or speaking to health care professionals.

Fabreau says it’s not always a question of spending more money, but in some case making the system more efficient

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The North American Refugee Health Conference is a three-day conference that focuses on issues relevant to the emerging field of refugee healthcare. The attendees will have the opportunity to learn about best practices and increase their levels of cultural competency.

Fabreau said per capita, Calgary settles more refugees than anywhere in the country.

“We are very good at this. We have strong community coordination and integration between our resettlement sector, and we live in a city that’s incredibly generous and welcoming,” Fabreau said.

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He points to Germany’s ability to resettle Syrian refugees as an example for Canada.

“We’re one of the largest and richest, and most amazing places to live in in the world. We can do amazing things because we can and we should. This is who we are,” Fabreau said.

Since 2015 Calgary has resettled over 23,000 refugees and is second only to Toronto for total refugees welcomed.

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