Child refugees require more care from us

Dr. Brindamour is co-chair of the immigration and refugee health committee at the University of Saskatchewan's college of medicine. She collaborated with four other pediatric residents in writing this viewpoint.
As future Canadian pediatricians, we have at heart the health of all children. Consequently, we are very concerned about the Conservative government's Bill C-31 (which amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act), and the effect it may have on the health of the vulnerable population for whom we care.

We understand and approve that the purpose of the bill is to contribute to stopping human smuggling. However, unintended consequence could be severe and lifelong harm done to infants, children and adolescents who may have already experienced substantial trauma.
We are particularly alarmed about the mandatory detention, in high security prisons, of refugee claimants who arrive as a group. Children older than 16 years would be imprisoned as if they were adults, and be separated from their families.
Younger children either would be imprisoned with their parents, or handed over to child protection agencies. The announcement this week by the minister of amendments to this bill to introduce a 14-day and six-month review of mandatory detention instead of one year is an amelioration, but not enough to protect the health of vulnerable minors and their families.
Literature around the world has shown that detention of refugee children increases the risk of poor physical health, and serious, long lasting mental disorders. Interestingly, the United Kingdom announced in 2010 its intention to abolish detention of minors in a context of immigration, partly based on the recommendations of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health.
This is one of many examples of a global trend toward exempting minors from detention related to refugee and immigration issues.
We also bring to public attention that Bill C-31 violated the UNHCR Refugee Convention that Canada has signed. And as organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association have noted, it also violates the Charter of Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We respectfully suggest that everything be done to preserve family support and cohesion, in order to keep children and their parents physically and mentally healthy. This involves, at the bare minimum, abandonment of the idea of mandatory detention of minors. We also highly recommend that children and families receive urgent assessment of their vulnerability and prompt recommendations from independent health and mental health experts.
We applaud the minister's decision to remove the government's power to revoke the permanent residency of successful refugee claimants if the situation in their home country improves. However, given the harm caused by lengthy family separation, we urge eliminating the five-year delay imposed on refugees before they can apply for permanent residence. These measures will ensure that we do not do more harm than good by punishing the innocent in an attempt to weed out the human smugglers.

The StarPhoenix

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