Refugee claimant with cancer worries about family
Saleem Akhtar, the Saskatoon man who is undergoing treatment for cancer as he works through Canada's refugee system, says he's worried about his wife and five children in Pakistan, the country he fled due to persecution, he says, based upon his religious views.
Akhtar's situation recently made the news when it was learned he was not covered under a federal health benefits program for refugee claimants -- despite his need for various cancer treatments. The federal government recently cut back what it would cover.
Saskatchewan has stepped in to ensure Akhtar receives the treatment and medications he needs.
Akhtar told CBC News Monday that he is feeling weak as he heads into another round of chemotherapy.
Despite his condition — he was diagnosed with spleen and pancreatic cancer shortly after arriving in Saskatoon this summer — he said he is more concerned about his family.
"I don't want health care," he said, with a faltering emotional voice. "I just want my family."
Akhtar said he appreciates how people have come forward to help him. A Saskatoon nun was among those who raised money for some prescription medication following his last round of chemotherapy.
When it was learned that was not covered, provincial officials — in addition to pledging to ensure the drugs would be available — sharply criticized the federal cut.
"I don't understand this decision," Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told CBC News on Nov. 22. "I think it's very much part of Canadian values and Saskatchewan values to want to make sure that these people, who are obviously very vulnerable, especially if they have a medical issue that they developed either before or after they came here, that we help them."
Akhtar said he has been moved by the support he has received.
"I experience people very nice," he said. "Everybody come forward to help me."
According to Akhtar, he fled Pakistan because he was threatened under strict blasphemy laws. Akhtar is a Christian and was teaching high school in a predominantly Muslim region of the country.
He said he was persecuted for his beliefs and, in one episode, was shot in the back.
"I'm coming from a country where there's death [and] blood," he said. "If I go back, they don't kill only me maybe they attack my home." Akhtar has applied for refugee status and is waiting to learn if federal officials will accept his claim.
He is also hoping his family will be able to join him in Canada.
"I feel angels live here," he said. "Just give me my sons. Just give me my family, I don't want nothing."
With files from CBC's Steve Pasqualotto