As Canadian Jews, we grew up hearing stories about how our families came to this country as refugees. We also heard about the relatives who never arrived because of the Canadian government's closed-door policy for Jews. Historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper's book None is Too Many told of this sad and ultimately deadly policy.
In the early 1900s, Jews fled persecution in European countries where anti-Semitism was rampant. They were not alone; the Roma and Sinti people were caught in the same web of hate.
When Hitler's forces overran Europe, it was the Jewish and Roma communities that were singled out for annihilation. And with the rest of the world engaged in either compliance or apathy, the Nazi plan almost succeeded.
Bearing the scars of the Holocaust, most Jews fled Europe to countries like Canada, which finally opened its doors with a new immigration policy.
However, the Roma mostly stayed behind, and there has been an enormous escalation of discrimination and bigotry against them, especially in Hungary. And with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open.
Most recently, with the passage of refugee and immigration Bill C-31, alongside suggested cuts to refugees' health care, the federal government is creating what it calls “designated countries,” or DCOs, that it considers “safe.”
Refugees from DCOs will now have only a short time to prepare for their hearings, and will effectively lose their right of appeal. Additionally, refugees will have no access to primary or emergency health care, even in the case of pregnancy or heart attack.
While refugee claimants from DCOs are singled out for particularly alarming treatment under the new federal rules, the changes will harm all those claiming refugee status. Claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs, such as insulin, and to preventive care. Physicians across the country warn that these changes will result in severe illness and death.
While DCOs have yet to be named, Hungary will assuredly be on the list. If these policy changes come into effect, Roma refugee claimants will lose access to health care on June 30. We are also likely to see many more deportations of Roma back to Hungary.
Judaism teaches the concept of “ tikkun olam,” an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. It is our hope that as Canadians hear more about the dangers of this legislation, they too will not stand by as refugees lose basic health care and persecuted groups or individuals are sent back to face violence in their home countries.
Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called “safe” countries. Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.
Pressure must continue. It's never too late to ask for changes or amendments to the regulations. Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government's new rules, they would be denied health care, and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired None is Too Many must be rejected.