The State of Refugee Care and the Common Good

By Brad Wassink

This article originally appeared in Embassy News.

We’re not going anywhere.

That was the message Dr. Doug Gruner delivered on behalf of the medical community last Thursday night as he spoke about the Interim Federal Health (IFH) cuts to refugee health care coverage.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and other medical professionals have been continually raising concerns since the cuts came into effect two years ago. Meanwhile, the federal government failed to consult key stakeholders in advance of the policy announcement and still ignores any opposing arguments. Regardless, as Gruner said, “the health care community acted swiftly and directly and this has been sustained over the last two years by many within civil society, especially within faith-based communities.”

CPJ is hoping to see more churches and faith groups join the movement. “There’s no pretending that church groups have been anywhere near as well organized publically as the medical community,” said panelist and CPJ Public Justice Intern Ashley Chapman, “but they haven’t all been silent either.”

Gruner’s talk, entitled “The State of Refugee Health: A Prognosis for Public Justice in Canada,” described the IFH cuts as both, “medically irrational and fiscally irresponsible.” The policy change forces refugees to increasingly use emergency medical services in lieu of the primary and preventative services they’ve now lost. And because provincial governments foot the bill for emergency health expenses, it’s a cost savings for the federal government but not to taxpayers or refugee-sponsoring groups.

If the federal government expects to ride the news cycle past these objections, the medical community appears determined to keep the issue alive. Gruner’s organization, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC), has been documenting the effects of the cuts since they took effect. Gruner noted that so far, their records show that the cuts have “created mass confusion on the front lines.”

Gruner’s talk also touched on the moral ramifications of the cuts. “There is a moral cost to us as a nation,” he said, “as we fail to meet our international commitments under the Geneva Convention which clearly stipulate that any child living within our borders has a right to access healthcare regardless of nationality.”

It is this moral argument that makes the IFH cuts so important to CPJ and faith communities. “Churches have a lot to lose,” said Chapman, pointing out that 72 per cent of Sponsorship Agreement Holders in Canada are churches or church-connected groups. Since the cuts, private sponsors can now be on the line for vision and dental care, prosthetics, mobility devices, and medication. This is a huge financial risk for refugee-sponsoring churches. But if they were acting out of self-interest, they wouldn’t be involved in the first place.

No, faith communities are involved because they believe in the common good. They believe that society is measured by how we treat the most vulnerable among us. It’s the same reason that CDRC have planned their third annual National Day of Action against the cuts on June 16th in 15 cities across Canada. It’s also what motivated the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers to challenge the IFH cuts in a case currently before the Federal Court.

But the political currency of “the common good” seems to be running out. The IFH cuts are merely one example. But it’s all the more reason to join the medical, legal, and faith communities in pointing out how morally unacceptable they really are.

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