Proposed anti-smuggling bill raises serious health concerns, health group says

Posted by admin on Nov 8th, 2010

November 8th, 2010, Toronto – Health professionals are condemning Bill C-49, the proposed ‘human smuggling’ bill that seeks to incarcerate refugees, warning that its provisions will cause a grave health crisis. Along with Bill C-49, the government threatens to deny refugees access to full Interim Federal Health benefits. “Jailing asylum seekers and denying people access to full healthcare coverage while awaiting a decision on their claims will lead to worsening health outcomes and is a fundamental violation of people’s rights under international and Canadian law” says Dr. Michaela Beder, a member of Health for All, a migrant justice and health organization based in Toronto.

Under the proposed Bill, asylum seekers will be jailed for at least one year, with the possibility of gaining freedom (detention reviews) only available once every six months after the first year. Harvard University, Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International have all shown that incarceration and denial of health services leads to worsening physical health outcomes along with higher levels of anxiety, stress, and post traumatic stress disorder in asylum seekers.

The government also threatens that, under regulatory and policy changes following the legislative bill, asylum seekers would also be denied access to necessary medications, dental care, vision products, and assistive devices such as wheelchairs or canes and walkers.

“Putting families, children, women and elderly in jail after they have travelled great distances, often in dangerous circumstances, is a waste of public resources and is setting the stage for a health crisis,” says Nanky Rai, Public Health Policy specialist and member of Health for All. “Denying people the right to health and criminalizing them upon arrival for no other reason than the fact that they are migrating is fundamentally unjust.”

Every year nearly 20,000 people arrive in Canada fleeing environmental, economic, military havoc as well as state and social repression. Most arrive irregularly, without requisite travel documents and apply for refugee status. This has been a long accepted method for people arriving in Canada seeking asylum. Under Bill C-49, any group of refugees, can be deemed a ‘smuggling incident’ or a ‘designated foreign national’ and can be jailed.

“The psychological stress of waiting for five years after gaining refugee status before being allowed to apply for permanent status, reuniting with families or being able to root one’s self in one’s community is also extremely dangerous”, Dr Beder adds. “This Bill targets refugees and must be immediately repealed.”

Under Bill C-49, even after refugees have been granted status by the Immigration and Refugee determination board, the Minister of Immigration will have five years to invalidate their claim and deport them. During this time, refugees will be barred from applying for permanent residence, sponsoring families or leaving the country.

Health professionals condemn Bill C-49 and insist it must be immediately revoked.


Media Spokesperson Dr Abeer Majeed, MD, CCFP.

Health for All is a multidisciplinary group of migrants, healthcare professionals, students, activists and allies. We believe health is a fundamental human right and a matter of social justice. Health requires not only access to services for maintaining physical and mental health, but requires full economic, social, environmental, and political rights for all people.

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