Doctors rally to protest cuts to refugee healthcare
Part of National Day of Action
A number of Winnipeg physicians were among demonstrators pounding the pavement in Central Park over the noon hour as part of a national protest called "Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care."
Hundreds of healthcare workers and newcomers participated in the second annual National Day of Action.
They are upset with federal government cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, which administers temporary healthcare benefits to refugee claimants.
The changes came into effect July 1, 2012, cutting drug, dental, and vision coverage for claimants who haven't been in Canada long enough to qualify for provincial health coverage.
Kasim Kawo and his family fled Ethiopia two months ago as they belong to an ethnic group that is persecuted in the country.
"For three years they jailed me. They persecute me and because of that I fled," said Kawo.
Kawo and his family are privately-sponsored refugees. He is diabetic and needs $200 worth of insulin each month.
"It is very bad for us especially because we don’t have assistance," said Kawo.
Kawo said he is fortunate the Manitoba government has stepped up to help him. Manitoba is one of the few provinces that covers refugee health-care costs.
But Karin Gordon of the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, a non-profit organization that sponsors refugees, says the system has become difficult to navigate.
"What used to be very simple -- took ten minutes to get their interim federal health card -- now sometimes can take weeks or months to get the appropriate provincial coverage," said Gordon. "It’s creating all kinds of stress. Again, remember these people are survivors. They’ve lived through circumstances most Canadians can’t even imagine."
But the federal government maintains the move will save millions of dollars, while also deterring bogus claims.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada provided the following statement in regards to the protest: "These protesters and the Opposition are misleading Canadians in an irresponsible and shameful attempt to further their unreasonable demands that Canadian taxpayers foot the bill for gold-plated health care coverage for illegal immigrants and bogus asylum claimants that is better than what even Canadian seniors receive."
But protesters say genuine refugees are falling ill and not receiving help.
"What’s happened in other places is that people have turned away," said Dr. Michael Dillon, of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Health Care. "They’ve gone away, they’ve gotten sicker, and they’ve come back in worse shape than they were."