Refugees access to health care in Canada

The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) regulates the provision of health care to refugees in Canada. It was formed in 1957 by the federal government. The Citizen and Immigration Canada took over its leadership in 1995. It has been responsible for its management since then. Before 2012, IFHP provided basic and supplementary care to refugees. It also provided care to those refugees who were denied refugee status and were awaiting deportation. In 2012, the program divided the provision of health care depending on the refugee’s country of origin.

Health care services were categorized into three; public health, health care coverage and expanded health care coverage. Health care professionals including nurses, social workers, and physicians. Together with organizations such as Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Pediatric Society greatly opposed the move to segregate the provision of healthcare for refugees, arguing that provision of health care based on the refugee’s country of origin is discriminatory. The provinces have been forced to intervene in the provision of health care to refugees due to limited services offered to some of them.

According to international law, Canadian human rights should ensure the provision of health care for all refugees. The federal government manages the provision of healthcare. In 2009, researchers discovered that there is a need for the provision of care to refugees. Refugees suffer more infections and chronic diseases compared to the locals. They also have more physical, emotional and dental problems compared to other immigrants.

After the segregation of medical services, several challenges have come up in the provision of health care. There gaps in the provision of mental support and maternal care to mothers due to financial constraints. Refugee mothers are likely to suffer postpartum depression after giving birth. This is due to the stressful migration and refugee experience.

Among all the immigrants, refugees have the highest cases of mental problems. Research has shown that most mothers lack concentration and they are emotionally detached. The language barrier is also a challenge. Most refugees cannot speak English or French. There is a scarcity of interpreters. The government should look into it to ensure that there is enough interpreters and refugees receive quality care.

The move to divide medical services offered to refugees, based on their country of origin was implemented after a warning given by the Supreme Court. According to the Supreme Court provision of universal health care to refugees regardless of immigration status would make the country a health care haven.


Rousseau, Cécile, et al. “Health care access for refugees and immigrants with precarious status.” Canadian Journal of Public Health 99.4 (2008): 290-292.

Wahoush, Ellen Olive. “Equitable health-care access: the experiences of refugee and refugee claimant mothers with an ill preschooler.” CJNR (Canadian Journal of Nursing Research) 41.3 (2009): 186-206.

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