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Experts call on government to support hundreds of Afghan refugees coming to Waterloo region

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An influx of refugees are coming to Canada, but those who support them say more funding and resources are needed to match demand.

After the Taliban swept to power in August 2021, Canada promised to resettle at least 40,000 Afghans.

Reception House is a Waterloo region-based organization that helps settle government-funded refugees.

“The government’s commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghans has ramped up in the last couple weeks because commercial charter flights have been arriving,” director of programs for Reception House Lynne Griffiths-Fulton said.

The latest charter flight with Afghans on board, landed in Toronto on Friday, May 19. About 50 of them came directly to Waterloo.

A total of 150 Afghan refugees are now temporarily living at a Waterloo hotel with upwards of 600 expected to arrive over the next year.

The goal is to find them permanent homes.

But housing, is just one issue. Health is another.

HEALTHCARE IS TOP CONCERN

Wajma Attaya is with the Centre for Family Medicine, which runs a refugee health care clinic. Attaya says many refugees arrive with post-traumatic stress disorder, either treated or untreated.

“People are fleeing from areas of conflict and may have experienced direct violence so they are traumatized it is an exhausting journey for people,” Griffiths-Fulton said.

Plus, other health issues need to be addressed too.

“Folks who come here and have prescriptions that require renewals or they have chronic conditions that require ongoing care, if they don’t have a primary care provider that they are attached to they have to go to the emergency room or walk-in clinic,” CEO of the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre, Tara Groves-Taylor said.

According to Attaya when newcomers arrive, they're supposed to be treated at a temporary clinic for the first six months, then move onto an assigned family doctor.

“Specifically focusing in on the refugee health clinic, we run our clinic a total of two days a week,” she said.

But because of an ongoing family doctor shortage in Ontario, some have to stay with the temporary refugee clinic for up to two years. It means those clinics are bottle-necked and there are some refugees who don’t get to see a doctor at all.

“We just don’t have the human health resources from reception all the way to primary care,” Attaya said.

In certain cases refugees, have ended up at the emergency room or a walk-in clinic for something as simple as a prescription renewal.

“Walk-in clinics may not be set up with interpretation services or the services that are required,” Groves-Taylor said.

“The longer term solution is that the federal government and the provincial government need to talk to each other.”

A statement in Part from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reads: “Where there are identified gaps in health human resources, IRCC works with its partners to register medical professionals and ensure sufficient IFHP providers across all locations where refugees and asylum claimants reside.”

CTV News reached out to the federal and provincial governments to ask them if organizations like the ones in K-W will be seeing any increased support, to match the increase in patients.

The Ministry of Health responded did not answer the specific question.

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