Refugees without health care caught between death and debts
No one wants to see a patient suffer, but are we responsible for the health care of failed refugees and asylum seekers from so-called safe countries?
NICHOLAS KEUNG / Toronto Star
Edwin Naula Alvarracin was born with a deformed vertebrae, but his kyphoscoliosis has deteriorated since he came to Canada causing excruciating pain that requires a surgery.
By: Nicholas Keung Immigration reporter, Published on Fri Mar 29 2013
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Israel Sosa’s deportation has been put on hold as the 50-year-old battles colon cancer.
The failed refugee claimant from the Dominican Republic has been allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds for now — but he has been banned from getting treatment under Ottawa’s Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program for refugees.
The Toronto man could choose to delay treatment and face death — or go into debt paying his medical costs.
That’s the new reality for asylum seekers from the so-called “safe countries” — ones such as Mexico and the Czech Republic, which are deemed democratic countries capable of state protection — as well as failed refugee claimants.
“People with severe medical conditions are being put at risk.
Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers
They are no longer eligible for government health care as of last June, unless they put public health at risk. The old program covered them for emergency and basic health care, similar to what is included with OHIP.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said these are not legitimate refugees and taxpayers should not be held accountable for their care. The cuts are expected to save Ottawa $100 million over five years.
An airport service agent, Sosa came to Canada in 2007 and filed a refugee claim the following year. His case was denied in 2011.
Early last year, he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and received chemotherapy and radiation at Sunnybrook Hospital. Deemed “medically irremovable,” Sosa’s deportation was put on hold.
Without the aid of the health program, single mother Svetlana Muller, a failed refugee from Estonia, waited four days to take her daughter, Joanna, 10, to see a doctor for a fractured right foot she sustained in January.
Alvarracin, a failed refugee from Ecuador who suffers from severe kyphoscoliosis, can’t sit for more than 10 minutes or stand for three minutes, according to his medical report.
The 32-year-old with a hunchback waited months to see a specialist. In October, a doctor at Toronto Western Hospital told him three staged surgeries could correct 70 per cent of his problem and alleviate his pain, but he’s no longer covered by the IFH. (The surgical treatment is not available in Ecuador.)
When asked why Canadians should pay for his surgeries, Alvarracin lowered his head and said, “I came to Canada because I believed Canada was a humanitarian country where everybody was treated equal and fair. But the reality is a bit different.”