How refugees are fulfilling critical needs in Canada’s healthcare system

It was that life-altering week in March when the whole world seemed to change. Over the span of one short week, borders rapidly closed, travel halted, and the world moved indoors.

But Ibrahim, a Palestinian refugee, boarded a plane just in time to reach a place he’d never truly had before: home.

Ibrahim was born and raised in Lebanon but has never held citizenship of any country. He’s Palestinian, the third generation of his family to live in Lebanon, and is a refugee, like 5.5 million Palestinians across the Middle East.

Ibrahim took a big risk. He set out to study nursing, even though Palestinians are prohibited in most cases from legally working in healthcare professions. Ibrahim was among the lucky few able to secure a coveted position at a hospital, where he completed rotations as part of his Bachelor’s degree. Here, Ibrahim developed a strong work ethic and attention to detail while caring for patients.

One job, however, wasn’t enough to support himself and his wife. Palestinians are systematically underpaid compared to Lebanese citizens. Ibrahim took a position at another hospital in 2017 and started working between 16 and 24 hours each day.

Ibrahim and his wife lived with precarious status in Lebanon. They were unable to plan for their futures, to access many public services, or to earn decent wages. The couple even lived separately, with their own families, because they couldn’t afford their own home.

Ibrahim registered with Miles4Migrants nonprofit partner, Talent Beyond Boundaries, in the hope of a different life for himself and his wife, and their future family. He was determined to be recognized for his professional ability and to live where his family could access healthcare, compete equally for jobs, and have secure status.

Ibrahim was shortlisted for a job opportunity with Closing the Gap Healthcare, an in-home healthcare provider with operations in Canada, and, after rounds of interviews, was soon after offered a job in Halifax. Closing the Gap Healthcare is a “designated” employer under a Canadian pilot program to attract and retain talent to Atlantic Canada, which faces an aging population and acute shortages in the healthcare sector. They couldn’t get Ibrahim to Halifax fast enough to begin work– but it would be another year and a half due to visa processing timelines before Ibrahim could relocate.

Finally, just weeks before borders closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Ibrahim and his wife were granted entry in the country. Unable to easily afford a flight and with mounting pressure to get to Canada quickly before borders shut, Ibrahim and his wife turned to Miles4Migrants through our partnership with Talent Beyond Boundaries. Miles4Migrants donors generously offered their frequent flyer miles to help pay for the tickets, as Miles4Migrants’ booking team worked quickly to secure flight tickets for the couple.

It was not an easy start in a new country: The couple faced two weeks in strict quarantine, government office closures, and all the challenges that come with renting an apartment and starting-up in lockdown. But they are settling into a new routine in their home in Halifax.

Ibrahim’s days are now filled with patient visits. Some are elderly and others have profound physical needs. He isn’t working directly with COVID-19 patients, but he and his team are keeping at-risk patients healthy and avoiding hospitalization or long-term care homes, where the risk of exposure is pronounced. Ibrahim is doing what he was trained to do. He’s still working around the clock, but now he’s paid a good salary and supported by a compassionate team.

Ibrahim is a permanent resident of Canada and will be eligible to apply for citizenship in just three years. Canadian citizenship will be his first.

We have a big goal of raising 5 million miles this month in honor of World Refugee Day. Donate your frequent flyer miles and credit card points now to help refugees, asylees, and asylum-seekers reunite with loved ones and find a safe place to call home.