Do illegal immigrants have a right to free health care?

I’m not much of a traveler myself but I think it is very crucial for most people travelling oversea or to any country for that matter to consider whether or not to renew their temporary permit residence in that country to a citizenship.

This follows a recent ruling in Canada by The Federal Court of Appeal that illegal immigrants have no right to free medical intervention or ongoing health care under the country’s Charter of Rights. The ruling is said to be going to protect Canada from “medical tourism” whereby people coming to the country “expressly to get medical treatment paid for by the government”.

The ruling comes after Nell Toussaint – a Grenada citizen who came to Canada in 1999 as a visitor and whose permit expired six months after her arrival yet she continued to remain in that country illegally – had her application to have the state pay for her medical costs rejected.

According to National Post report, Toussaint in 2006 developed kidney problems and received free medical care.

And when more than that was needed, that’s when she wanted the state of Canada to be liable for her medical costs. It was only 9 years later after her visitor’s permit to Canada had expired and therefore having lived illegally in that country that in 2008 she applied for a temporary residence permit that would make her eligible for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. Unfortunately, her application was not processed. At the same time, her health continued to deteriorate. The following year, 2009, Toussaint then applied to Citizenship and Immigration Canada for medical coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) which apparently offers emergency medical care for indigent people legally living in Canada. But for the fact that she had her citizenship application rejected and therefore was and had been living in that country as an illegal immigrant for almost, if not over, nine years – her application for IFHP was also declined.

Toussaint, with the assistance of refugee support organizations and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, appealed to the courts: seeking to have both her application fees to remain inCanadawaived and to gain access to health coverage under the Charter of Rights which grants the right to life and security of the person. But the outcome was good and bad.

It was good in that she won an appeal on the application fees because the Federal Court ordered the Canadian government to reconsider its refusal. But it was bad in that the same Federal Court of Appeal did not agree with her position on the health care: that the state should pay for her medical costs [as an illegal immigrant].

In an “unanimous decision” as noted by National Post report – it was ruled that: “The program could not have been intended to pay the medical expenses of those who arrive as visitors but remain illegally in Canada and who, after the better part of a decade of living illegally in Canada, suddenly choose to try to regularize their immigration status”. The court found that “by her own conduct … [Toussaint] has endangered her life and health” by entering Canada as a “visitor” and continued to remain in the country “for many years, illegally”. “Had she acted legally and obtained legal immigration status in Canada, she would have been entitled to coverage,” the Federal Court of Appeal found against Toussaint.

This, for many, was “hailed as a significant and sensible one”.

Sergio Karas, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer and analyst, told National Post that: “This case is extremely important because it limits the potential claims that other classes of people in Canada may make for medical coverage, such as visitors or those without any status and under the radar, of which the number is currently unknown but estimated in the hundreds of thousands”.

Iris Fischer – a lawyer who argued for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on Ms. Toussaint’s behalf – told National Post that the organisation was “disappointed that the Federal Court of Appeal did not recognize that a denial of health care to Ms. Toussaint in these life threatening circumstances violates her right to life and to equality.” And it appears Fischer was trying to justify Toussaint’s failure to apply for Canadian citizenship at the time when she was still healthy and when the circumstances allowed her to. And that, I’m afraid, is not how things are supposed to work.

I mean, it is the responsibility of any person – when circumstances allow and given the chance – to make sure that when the need arises they consider applying for permanent citizenship in any country and should never have to wait until such time when their health conditions would not allow them to that they all of a sudden want to make efforts to apply when they have previously not shown any interest in doing so. It is further not clear why during the nine years that Toussaint has stayed illegally in Canada – and knowing very well that her temporary permit expired six months after she arrived in that country – that she failed to either renew her temporary permit or applied for permanent citizens if she saw the need to.

And it may well be for this failure that Toussaint’s claim for medical expense to be said by the state was rejected because she has failed to prove to the court why she could not do any of the two: renew her temporary permit or apply for permanent Canadian citizenship.

Illegal Zimbabweans in South Africa

With many Zimbabweans living illegally in the country and with their period having expired to apply for citizenship or asylum seeker status – it is not clear if the government would take full responsibility for their medical costs.

Zimbabwean nationals were given until the end of last year, December 31, to apply for permits to live in the country or risk being deported. On the closing day about 250 000 applications had been received by the South African Home Affairs Department.

By end of this month all Zimbabwean nationals without the required documents or those having failed to register by deadline will be deported back to Zimbabwe, according to Media Global web site, after the four-month push that took place last year to document as many Zimbabweans as possible before any changes started.

Braam Hanekom, the head of Cape Town-based refugee advocacy People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), told Media Global that while the South African government’s move was progressive, the impending changes, however, leave himself and other human rights activists alarmed.

Media Global is an independent media organization designed to create awareness in the global media of the suffering of the world’s poorest countries in Africa andAsiaon issues of economic development, global health, food security and the impact of climate change on developing countries.

Hanekom said “we are concerned that in August the government might not be planning or intending on mass deportations, but they will have the authority and it will be lawful to do so should they wish to”.

Media Global reported that the new legislation to be implemented next year could compound the problems for immigrants. Hanekom told Media Global that the new legislation which sought to speed up the decision making process on asylum applications could result in the vast majority of about 400,000 applicants being denied refugee status. The legislation apparently requires Zimbabweans enteringSouth Africa to apply for documentation at Home Affairs office within five days of entering the country and not the current 14 days failing which offenders could face jail sentences.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans living in South Africaand Hanekom believes about 800,000 were undocumented prior to last year’s documentation push in which 275,000 Zimbabweans applied for work permits.

“Furthermore, nearly 70,000 Zimbabweans have not picked up their work permits because they unable to acquire passports from the Zimbabwean consulates”, reported Media Global last month. It quoted Hanekom as saying about 70 percent of the dispensation process applications had been approved.

Many Zimbabweans fled due to violent crackdowns on supporters of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Hanekom was afraid that if a large numbers of Zimbabweans were to be deported this would “add huge pressure to the already tense political situation that exists there”. He said that large numbers of Zimbabweans working illegally, vulnerable to exploitation by employers, and a possible increase in crime as people fight to survive, could all adversely affect the relationship between South Africans and the Zimbabwean population.

“If people are now going to be deemed illegal immigrants and if attention is going to be brought toward them, that would be very comparable to what happened in 2008 prior to the outbreak of xenophobic violence that South Africais infamous for,” said Hanekom. “South Africais at a pivotal point where they’re really beginning to determine what their immigration policy actually is… But if the department decides to harshly implement the laws then there would be very, very large numbers of people being deported.”

Zimbabwe “not safe” for its UK based citizens

In October last year media reports indicated that UK Border Agency (UKBA) intended to deport all Zimbabwean asylum seekers in that country because it felt it was “safe for failed asylum seekers to return home” despite thousands of them [Zimbabwean asylum seekers in UK] “not happy with the decision and are in a state of worry”.

The claim that Zimbabweans are not safe for asylum seekers in both South Africa and the UKto return home was supported by co-Home Affairs Minister, Theresa Makone when she urged Britain that Zimbabwe was still unsafe for those who remained critical of its President, Robert Mugabe. Makone said she even “personally advised my daughter who is resident inBritain not to come home now because the situation is critical”.

She said “despite being a minister myself, I have gone into hiding, running away from the very police who report to me. If I am forced to hide away, then what about my daughter?”

Makone told her daughter who was inBritainat the time to “stay put in Britain because the situation has deteriorated a lot”.

She said she was “engaged in secret talks with British authorities over the recent ruling by the British Home office that theUK should remove failed Zimbabwean asylum. This is because I know Zimbabweans are unsafe back home. As of now I cannot give you details of my talks withUK authorities on the issue, but I wish to tell you that there is something like that going on right now”.

With Zimbabweans – unlike Toussaint – at least many South African citizens know the situation in that country although that would still not serve as a reason for their failure to apply for citizenship until of course it is due to corruption and in the country’s Home Affairs as was suspected.

Be that as it may – I believe that Zimbabweans, whether or not as illegal occupants inSouth Africa, can still go to the nearest health center for medical attention. Unless that has changed, which I doubt it has…


One thought on “Do illegal immigrants have a right to free health care?

  1. I think what Canada has done taking the right of free health care from illegal immergrents and why should Canadian people pick up the tab from illegal immergrents whom have no legal right to be in Canada and human right commissions are non realisc commission now because they clearly think it’s ok somebody whom firstly has no regard or respect for the country they are illegally entering and then expect to have benefits and free health care on illegally entering too no I don’t think they should have no help at all. Also Zi have the same opinion relating too UK illegal immergrent issues here too and we lay them out the red carpet when here we need too stop all help we give such people and do what Canada does stop giving any medical help too because why should tax payees pay for such people? Because they have no legal right to be here plus there needs too be a quicker deportation system than taking a year too 2 yrs too deport somebody if they haven’t run away as absconders everytime as most do there needs to be urgent urgent changes in UK europe and rest of the world as illegal immergent are having a great time taking advantage of weathy countries and it’s time we join hands and we all say no more!

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