5 common myths about refugees and health care — debunked

When asked, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” one of the most common responses is: diversity. But while Canada is internationally recognized as a multicultural nation, a new poll reveals Canadians may not be as tolerant of refugees and immigrants as they may think. In particular, there are many myths and misconceptions about Syrian refugees, especially when it comes to health care.

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First, it’s important to recognize that although some people use the terms ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ interchangeably, the two hold very distinct and different meanings.

An immigrant is a person who chooses to settle permanently in another country and has planned his or her departure. Immigrants often move to Canada to study or to ensure a better future for their family. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, immigrants face no such impediment to return.

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home country because of war or a well-founded fear of persecution. Refugees are not always able to return home and they often have no time to prepare for their departure. Many of them lived in refugee camps before making the long and difficult journey to their new country. In December 2015, the first Syrian refugees arrived in Canada as part of the Liberal government’s resettlement plan. Since then, thousands more have settled in new homes across the country.

Yahoo Canada News will now debunk some of the most common myths related to refugees and health care.


FACT: Refugees come to Canada because they have been forced to flee their homeland, usually with little or no belongings. Some leave family and friends behind. Many have seen or experienced horrors we cannot even imagine. It’s safe to say that accessing free health care is the last thing on their minds.


FACT: This is false. They get the same health programs Canadians on social assistance get and they do not jump the queue.


FACT: According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, the cost of health care for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to just 10 per cent of that of other Canadians. Furthermore, newcomers to Canada use fewer health services compared to Canadians, especially in their first few years after arrival. This phenomenon has become popularly known as the ‘healthy immigrant’ effect, and some researchers believe it applies to refugees as well.

University of Toronto epidemiologist Laura Rosella recently published a research paper on the healthy immigrant effect. She found that immigrants are 60 per cent less likely to die during a given time period than native-born Canadians and long-term residents in Ontario. However, she is unclear if the same can be said for refugees who arrive to Canada. “They come here under significant stress, so it’s unpredictable how that could affect their health,” she told Yahoo Canada News. But Rosella adds that Canada is very selective of who it allows in the country and it omits “people who have major health problems because they could be a burden on the health care system.”

Dr. Jack Tu, a cardiologist and senior scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, looked at the cardiovascular health of people who had recently arrived to Canada. He found that “major cardiovascular events occurred 30 per cent less often in newcomers than in long-term residents.” Dr. Tu says one of the reasons for this is “Canada’s rigorous screening process, which includes extensive health requirements.”


FACT: No, they don’t. According to the World Health Organization, there is no systemic association between migration and the increase of communicable diseases.

Refugees who have health problems usually do so as a result of the lack of medical care that existed in their home country, or due to problems they encountered on their journey to Canada. But most of these problems are addressed by health care services in first-asylum camps and in refugee processing centres before refugees enter Canada.

The main priority for doctors once refugees arrive is to make sure kids — as well as adults — are up to date on vaccinations. And while some refugees may have incomplete immunization records, or no record at all, studies have shown there is no danger in revaccination.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization says the health problems of refugees are similar to those of the rest of the population, although some groups may have a higher prevalence. The most frequent health problems of newly arrived refugees include accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, cardiovascular events, pregnancy and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension.


FACT: Most refugees have adequate access to health care in Canada, but not all of them do. It’s been over a year since the Liberals reversed cuts to the health care program for refugees. The move reinstated basic health care and supplemental services — such as dental and vision services — for newcomers who aren’t yet eligible for provincial health coverage. But despite the policy change, CBC News found that many walk-in clinics, pharmacies, specialists and general practitioners continue to deny services to refugees based on the false assumption that their health care costs are not covered.