Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stats confirm 'bogus' refugee claimants from 'safe' countries abusing Canadian health care: Kenney

By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News July 31, 2012



OTTAWA — Mexican, Hungarian, Colombian and American refugee claimants used Canadian health care services more than any other asylum claimants, according to new figures obtained by Postmedia News which the government argues supports its claim that so-called "bogus refugees" are abusing the system.
Between Jan. 17 and Dec. 31, 2011, 8,819 Mexicans racked up nearly $7 million in health care costs under the Interim Federal Health Program. Some 6,749 Hungarians charged more than $4.4 million, while 4,583 Columbians racked up more than $2.6 million in costs. Meanwhile, 3,790 Americans received more than $1.4 million in free health care. Jamaican claimants round out the top five with 809 health care users receiving more than $808,000 worth of health services.
Given the high rejection, abandonment and withdrawal rates for refugee claimants from some of these countries, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argued this is proof the government was right to crack down on the breadth of health services that are available to refugee claimants.
"That does underscore the reasons why we've reformed the Interim Federal Health Program. There's no doubt that it has been a draw factor for many false asylum claims," he said.
"I think it demonstrates why we've made what are, I think, very fair and balanced changes."
The government announced in April that it was cutting a variety of health care services, including pharmaceutical, vision and dental care, provided to refugee claimants under the Interim Federal Health Program. The cuts, which took effect June 30, were meant to ensure potential fraudsters were not receiving "gold-plated" extras average Canadians don't get, according to Kenney.
The move led to a backlash by a number of physicians across the country who have taken to the streets to protest the cuts, which they say go a lot deeper than the government is letting on and create additional barriers for an already vulnerable population.
There are also concerns that under Bill C-31, the controversial tough-on-refugees bill that became law in June, claimants will face even more hurdles in obtaining health care. The bill creates a list of so-called "safe" democratic countries that are thought not to produce bona fide refugees. Claimants from those countries will have their cases fast-tracked, they'll have no right to appeal a negative decision and they'll be barred from receiving ongoing health care services except in cases where public safety is at risk.
According to Immigration and Refugee Board figures, last year 83 per cent of Mexican refugee applications were rejected, abandoned or withdrawn. The same could be said for 91 per cent of Hungarian claims, 98 per cent of American claims, 63 per cent of Columbian claims and 62 per cent of Jamaican claims.
While Kenney has yet to release his "safe" country list, according to the criteria, Mexico, Hungary and the United States are certain to be on it.
Kenney said Tuesday that he's heard stories from Canada Border Service agents who've interviewed Hungarians about why they withdrew their applications. Some were quite honest, he said, noting they came to get free dental care for their kids and planned to leave after they got it.
Many Columbian claimants, he added, apply for refugee status in Canada, not after arriving from Bogota but after spending a decade in the United States with no health coverage.
"It's hard for us to quantify exactly how many false asylum claimants have come because of pull factors like the Interim Federal Health Program, but we shouldn't be naive. When you're offering people free gold-plated medical services they can't get in their country of origin, it's just human nature," Kenney said.
"We hope the changes we've made to the Interim Federal Health Program, combined with the fast asylum system and other measures we're taking to restrict access to federal benefits, will significantly reduce the pull factors . . ."
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