By Nicholas Boland-Cairney, Blog Writer
Out of the 4.5 million people who have fled Syria since the onset of the civil war, a mere 162,151 have been offered resettlement. The vast majority await their fate in camps throughout Syria’s neighboring countries. It’s no wonder that an overwhelming amount of international observers have called upon host countries to do more. However, it’s also becoming increasingly obvious that host countries can do far better when it comes to how we approach barriers to refugee resettlement. While these barriers seem to add a level of assurance to people who are skeptical of refugee resettlement, especially in the context of the attacks in Europe, we do need to understand the reality of the situation from all angles. In fact, it could be argued that the barriers themselves warrant a critical evaluation for the sake of the people who have to deal with them the most. One such barrier that certainly begs for more attention is that of medical admissibility. Is medical accessibility as a barrier significant from the perspective of public safety? Or is it just another form of refugee deterrence?
The Government of Canada’s website states that Canada’s refugee resettlement process will show preference to those who “are a lower security risk”, clearly as a means to appease individuals who are concerned about the intentions of those arriving. But it doesn’t take long to realize the idea of a would-be militant waiting months to go through a refugee resettlement process – knowing full well they might not even make it through – is extremely far-fetched and overblown in the media.
Further barriers to refugee resettlement emerge in bureaucratic double-steps: The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care of Ontario, for example, published a Syrian refugee action plan last December in which health screening is mentioned both prior to and during the resettlement process. While health screening is certainly important, these Canadian requirements do not account for the fact that health facilities in the refugee camps in which many of these individuals are forced to wait are lacking and severely underfunded. However, the issue isn’t totally clear, as there remain very stark points of ambiguity when it comes to medical requirements even being used as admissibility requirements. If the government isn’t even sure that the results would ultimately matter, why do we force these vulnerable people to jump through these hoops in the first place?
The Immigration Medical Examination (IME) also highlights mental health as a point of interest, begging the question as to what the criteria may be for an individual to be considered “mentally fit” – especially considering the traumatic events most refugees have experienced. Further, there is something to be said about forcing people to look back on horrific events, effectively “retraumatizing” them. While slower approaches built on developing trusting relationships have been recommended by mental health experts as a way to properly determine “mental health fitness”, the timing involved poses another delay to refugee resettlement. While providing an all-encompassing physical and mental healthcare program to newly arrived refugees will be challenging, it’s safe to say that Canada is certainly up to the task. But there are certainly steps we can take that are far more immediate. For example, adapting the health requirements to reflect the limitations of the camps, perhaps by saving the second medical screening until after arrival in Canada, will help lower some of the already lengthy/prohibitive barriers to refugee resettlement. Ultimately, it appears that there is a lot of room for the federal government to play a far more active for in one of many realms of refugee resettlement admissibility – let alone the process as a whole.
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