By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border.
“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.”
The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings.
The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already.
In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees.
The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance.
The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said.
Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees.
Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations.
Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival.
Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum.
As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status.
Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them.
“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said.
But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.
The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year.
Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs.
“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”
Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.
Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money.
She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors.
The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council.
But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister.
“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.”
Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.
She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.
Republished with permission from The Tyee.
Marcus is a poet, editor and freelance journalist based in Toronto. He currently works with New Canadian Media as an Administrative Assistant.