Community groups are applauding a move by the Ontario government to provide short-term care for thousands of refugee claimants who are awaiting processing and have no health care.
“It is the compassionate thing to do,” said Ontario’s Citizenship and Immigration minister Michael Coteau. “We support a refugee adjudication system that reflects the principles of fairness, compassion and efficiency.”
Many claimants have been without care since June 2012 when the federal government cut an Interim Federal Health Program that covered basic health care for refugees, claimants and certain other non-citizens.
“Many of these people are in vulnerable situations and do not have basic health care,” Coteau told Share. “We believe that if we do not support this group now it will cost us more money down the road.”
The new Ontario Temporary Health Program will kick in on January 1 and provide basic care for claimants, most of whom are newcomers to Canada and do not have health care since their documents are being processed by federal officials.
The program will cover hospital, primary, specialist, laboratory and diagnostic services.
Coteau said the program will help reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and stress on health providers by providing vulnerable claimants with basic services as soon as a health issue surfaces.
“The federal government dropped the ball on this one and we think it is our responsibility to help them,” he said. “Some of those who come to our province to build a better life, put themselves at risk just trying to get here.”
Deb Matthews, Ontario’s minister of Health and Long-Term Care, said in the announcement last week that a bill for the interim refugee health care will be sent to the federal government for payment.
“We will continue to call on the federal government to reinstate the federal program providing all refugee claimants health care coverage,” Matthews said in a release.
Luciano Mora, an outreach worker for the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Refugees (ORAT), said the health coverage will help many claimants.
“It is wonderful news,” Mora said. “This is good for all refugee claimants.”
His group brings to Canada refugees who are sponsored by church groups or individuals and have already been granted some health care.
Dr. Philip Berger, of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, said the cuts are denying care or placing at risk sick children, pregnant women and cancer patients.
“Many of these patients will become Canadian citizens,” Berger said. “We call on the federal government to close the remaining gaps in coverage which still threaten the health and safety of both refugees and Canadians”
Ontario will now join Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Quebec in filling gaps in health coverage for refugee claimants.
About 48,900, or 55 per cent, of all refugee claimants in Canada live in Ontario, with the majority settling in the Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa areas.
More than 30 per cent of Ontario’s refugee claimants are without health coverage due to federal government cuts, Ontario officials said.
Ottawa has said in the past that it has increased provincial transfer payments to provinces, and provincial jurisdiction in health-care services allows each province to decide which services it will or will not provide.