Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the blog AccessDenied, with the same title as the post. The blog’s approach is from the social sciences, especially medical anthropology, and it attempts to seriously engage both theory and practice in its articles. It is well worth perusing. In the article, I attempt to deal with the fact that Canada’s debate over refugee care is not only, or even primarily, about legal, economic, or efficiency issues. It is primarily about inclusion and exclusion, and drawing boundaries around who is “deserving” of our care. Since the struggle is one over narrative, debating data and legal arguments needs to be complemented by the generation of a powerful discourse, a narrative into which we place ourselves that includes the provision of care regardless of arbitrary boundaries of status.
Willen recently wrote of unauthorized migrants that, “they are excluded not only from the political community, but also from the moral community of people whose lives, bodies, illnesses, and injuries are deemed worthy of attention, investment, or concern” (2012: 806). Only by portraying these extremely vulnerable people as “undeserving” (Willen 2012) can Canada deny them care while at the same time maintaining an air of generosity. And according to the new policy, these “undeserving” people should be detained, deported as quickly as possible, and denied access to health care.
This discursive manoeuvering imagines refugee claimants from DCOs, no matter what their personal situation, as bogus claimants trying to take advantage of Canada’s generosity. Regardless of the hardship of their lives and their journeys, those arriving in ways deemed “irregular” are imagined as immigration queue-jumpers – as people who freely choose a quick and easy route to Canadian protection and citizenship. Health care professionals, medical anthropologists, and others who care for asylum seekers and refugees and hear the intimate details of their stories are the most obvious candidates to combat these portrayals, which we know from our daily work to be both wrong and demeaning.
Only by telling – and listening to – stories like these will Canadians become attuned to the profound cognitive dissonance between how we want to see ourselves and current Canadian government policy. Pregnant women with high blood pressure, children with asthma, and men with diabetes have all lost access to care. We must repeatedly remind ourselves that they could be our siblings, parents, or children. Through this visceral, narrative approach, we can rehumanize the people most affected by these regressive policy changes and wake ourselves from our complacence. In short, we cannot convincingly declare ourselves generous while denying care to those who deserve it.