Medical professionals and refugees spoke out in St. John's Monday to draw attention to a pending cut of federal medical aid to people seeking asylum in Canada.

The federal government is eliminating the Interim Federal Health Program which extends health care to refugee claimants while their claims are being processed.


Adriana Kutty said federally funded medical assistance was critically important when she arrived in Canada. CBC

Adriana Kutty, who attended a news conference sponsored by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, said the program was a lifeline for her.

"Arriving as a family with two small kids, even very basic medical care coverage is very important," Kutty said.

"Knowing that I could get very basic dental care and prescription, if necessary, was very important to me as a mother, as well as a refugee."

Paul Crocker, a medical student who helped organize an accompanying rally Monday, said the stakes for those about to lose benefits on June 30 are very high.

"Many of these refugees coming to Canada have been living in camps for over 20 years. They literally come with the clothes on their back," Crocker told CBC News.

"They don't have the funds that we have as Canadians living here, to access these services."

The rally was one of several across the country that aimed to pressure the federal government not to scrap the health program.

Cuts denounced as heartless

Bissan Hazen, a Syrian refugee claimant living in St. John's, has minor surgery scheduled for later this month. After that, he is not sure how he will be able to access medical and dental care.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, really," he said.

"Taking care of your health is a priority. Maybe the money will go [from] my grocery money."

Doctors denounced the cut as heartless and bound to hurt some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

"Refugees have already endured a world of pain before arriving in Canada; torture, rape, the pain of separation from their families, their cultures, their land," said Dr. Monica Kidd, who has worked with refugees.

"They come full of despair and anxiety, but also hope that life in Canada will be better [and] more humane."

Medical student Catherine Winsor questioned the efficacy of the cut, saying that refusing medical aid to refugee claimants won't necessarily save the government any money.

"This will cause an increase in emergency room visits and also an increase in hospital admissions so that we can provide care for people," she said in an interview.

"You're not going to send a five-year-old home who's a diabetic, when you know they can't access their medication at home. You're going to admit them to hospital."