“Refugees Inside Borders”.
Yetunde’s refugee journey in Canada is all too common. “When Canada fails to provide health care to every member of its society equally, it fails to treat any of us.”
Yetunde is 54. After making her refugee claim in Canada in 2016 she began working as a healthcare aide in a Toronto’s Long Term Care Homes. Interim Federal Health (IFH) coverage and a work permit was provided while she navigated her claim. In early 2019 Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) denied Yetunde’s Refugee Claim. On the same day, Canada revoked her medical coverage. Refugee claimants are not eligible for OHIP. Yetende was suddenly medically uninsured, without health care. She has diabetes. Canada rejects half of all refugee claims it receives.
Yetunde began her appeals. Returning to the violence and persecution in her African country was a deadly option. In late 2019 Yetunde received a work permit so she could continue working in our Nursing Homes caring for our seniors during COVID. Canada continued to deny OHIP or IFH health coverage while Yetunde kept working for 3 full years during COVID. She paid income taxes. She became sick with COVID caring for her ill seniors, yet was unable to afford access to her own healthcare needs, doctors.
As the Pandemic wound down in late 2022 Yetende received a letter from Canada Border Services terminating her work permit and demanding she report to the Refugee Detention Centre at Airport Road in Toronto, for immediate deportation. Yetende left her PSW job the same day. Like thousands of others she slipped underground and into the shadows to avoid deportation. Now homeless and with all funds used for legal costs, Yetunde couch surfed at a friends. She worked at cleaning jobs off the grid to buy food. A diabetic with high blood pressure and no money to pay for care Yetende went without any diabetic treatment, insulin, medications. For almost 4 years.
In early January 2023 Yetunde’s foot became swollen, with severe pain, and quickly turned black. Severe infection and gangrene had set in. Yetunde’s foot, leg and her life were at risk. She went to a Toronto Hospital ER where she was told to pay $800 before being seen. Unable to pay Yetunde literally begged for help, promising to pay when she could. She signed the papers. Yetunde received a prescription for antibiotics and was sent home that night, shivering with fevers. She could not afford the antibiotics.
Yetunde was then turned down for care by a Toronto Community Health Centre (CHC), who referred here to our free clinic for the uninsured in Scarborough. Two days later Yetunde limped in. She had deteriorated. Our volunteer nurses, doctors and staff arranged for transfer to a downtown hospital. Yetunde was admitted. After every effort to save her foot, a partial amputation was performed. After 6 weeks in hospital for wound care Yetunde was discharged to a long term rehab care hospital for another 6 weeks. Now transferred to a homeless shelter she will be disabled and unable to work for a year. A sponsor has step forward. Yetunde can now stay in Canada. ———————————————————————-
Sadly Yetunde’s story, one she has permitted us to share, and her devastating outcomes are all too common when Canada says no to health care for its refugee claimants, asylum seekers and forced migrants. Something it does quite regularly, and often unfairly. Canada is currently denying the basic human right to health care to at least a million rejected, underserved, under-empathized refugees. Working off the grid, filling Canada’s vital 5-D dangerous, dirty, deadly and demeaning, deadly frontline jobs. This humanitarian failure is an international humanitarian disgrace and stain that governments have worked to keep below Canada’s healthcare inequity radar.
It shouldn’t be, nor does it have to be this way, inside the borders of Canada, a wealthy United Nations lauded refugee receiving nation. Whose prosperity continues to be fuelled by and dependant on the contributions of newcomers — just like Yetunde. Who seek our safety and sanctuary while helping build the Canada they come to.