Asylum seekers fight for free Canadian healthcare

Since the 1950s refugees seeking asylum in Canada have had access to free healthcare from the moment they arrive.

Supporters view the generous benefits as an example of Canada's spirit of generosity to the persecuted and vulnerable. But critics say they have made the country an attractive destination for economic migrants seeking a better life.

In December 2012 the federal government changed the eligibility requirements for the refugee healthcare programme.

Now, only those officially granted refugee status receive free care. Those awaiting rulings in their cases and those whose applications have been rejected must pay for treatment.

The government department which handles refugees, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, defended the cuts and said no genuine refugees would lose coverage. They will still get premium benefits - including free dental and eye care - that most Canadians have to pay for.

In a statement to the BBC, spokeswoman Danielle Vlemmiks said: "Canadians have been clear - they do not want illegal immigrants and bogus refugee claimants receiving healthcare benefits that are better than those Canadian taxpayers, including seniors, receive."

This month Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, along with three individual patients, asked a federal court to declare the cuts unconstitutional and illegal. The case could last a year.

The BBC spoke to some of the families involved in the political and legal battle about how they are getting medical treatment now.

Produced by Anna Bressanin, camera by Ilya Shnitser

BBC News