Bioethics Blogs

Refugees and the Interim Federal Health Program

Abdihamid Abdihalim considers the benefits and challenges of Canada’s Interim Federal Health Program.


The ongoing Syrian conflict has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Since the start of the conflict, millions of Syrian citizens have been forcibly displaced, including over 4 million refugees. Canada has taken positive steps to address this crisis, including sponsoring over 25,000 Syrian refugees to migrate to Canada. Many of these refugees have had traumatic experiences, including exposure to violence and war. For some of these refugees these experiences have  lead to substantial physical and mental health concerns that need to be addressed.

The Interim Federal Health Program, established in 1957, provides temporary health insurance to specific groups that are not eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance. For example, this Federal Program covers government and privately sponsored refugees, refugee claimants, and rejected refugee claimants. These groups also receive temporary supplements to their healthcare benefits (for example,. dental care and certain prescription medications) for one year after obtaining provincial or territorial insurance.

Migrating to a new country can be a difficult and stressful transition. Unlike traditional immigrants who want to settle in a different country to pursue specific life goals and objectives (for example, employment), refugees move to a new country to escape violence, war or persecution. As a result, their integration into Canadian society can be more challenging than for other newcomers. Access to healthcare is of particular importance for refugees because they frequently arrive with significant and often neglected health concerns. For this reason, the Federal Program is critical for refugees.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.