Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Refugees ask feds to restore benefits

Diabetic Ethiopian grateful to land in Manitoba

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Kasim Kawo (left) with his daughter, Milki, 14 months, and wife Balkisa join a rally at Central Park to protest federal cuts to refugee health benefits.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Kasim Kawo (left) with his daughter, Milki, 14 months, and wife Balkisa join a rally at Central Park to protest federal cuts to refugee health benefits. Photo Store

The toddler wearing sequined cowboy boots and a vest looks like she's ready for showbiz while her insulin-dependent dad thanks his lucky stars they're in Manitoba.

"She can change her life," said her father, a farmer with diabetes who fled war in Ethiopia and settled in Winnipeg. Here, the provincial government will cover the cost of his insulin and vision care since the federal government last year cut a program in place since 1957 to provide health benefits to privately sponsored refugees.

On Monday, the Kawo family -- 14-month-old Milki (which means "success" in her mother tongue, Oromo), dad Kasim and mom Balkisa -- attended a rally in Central Park. The National Day of Action for Refugee Health Care was organized by doctors across Canada and held in 19 cities. In Winnipeg, the speakers applauded the province for covering the Interim Federal Health Program cuts and asked the federal government to restore benefits to new refugees across Canada.

The Kawo family was sponsored by Hospitality House Refugee Ministry. Its head of settlement paid for Kasim's first month of insulin until arrangements with the province were made to cover the medicine the federal government used to fund. Karin Gordon said several sponsored families would be in dire straits after the federal cuts if local organizations such as Mount Carmel Clinic, the Manitoba Dental Association and the provincial government hadn't stepped up. She has a list of sponsored families for whom medicine, prosthetics, dental and vision care are necessary to survive, never mind settle and become contributing, taxpaying members of society.

A single mom with eight children had her leg blown off by fighting in Somalia. Gordon got a call from the children's school saying they needed glasses.

"The kids couldn't see the blackboard," she told the crowd of close to 100. "These are the kinds of things we don't tolerate in our society -- not even for the poorest of the poor."

Dr. Mike Dillon read a statement from the Manitoba College of Family Physicians calling on the federal government to reinstate full benefits for all categories of refugees and refugee claimants across Canada.

Dr. Sara Kreindler sang a satirical ode to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney thanking him for the 59 cents a year his cuts save every Canadian: "Let's tell those refugees they'll never take us for a ride. They should've packed their insulin when fleeing genocide."

Jim Mair, with the Canada Council for Refugees, said the last two years have been bad for the refugee community with a federal government that's less than welcoming. At one time, Canada had a reputation for being a place "proud to protect refugees," he said. "That's slowly disappearing," said Mair.

Kenney's spokeswoman, Alexis Pavlich, called the protesters "irresponsible and shameful."

"These protesters and the Opposition are misleading Canadians in an irresponsible and shameful attempt to further their unreasonable demands that Canadian taxpayers foot the bill for gold-plated health-care coverage for illegal immigrants and bogus asylum claimants that is better than what even Canadian seniors receive," she said in a prepared statement. She said a poll found 70 per cent of Canadians are in favour of the federal government's approach to newcomers.

"Our Conservative government will continue to stand up for hard-working, Canadian taxpayers by ensuring our already strained health-care system is no longer abused by illegal immigrants and bogus asylum claimants."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2013 B2

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