Refugees at Risk after BC Support Group Denied Federal Funds, Critics Say

Inland Refugee Society says it is overwhelmed by growing numbers, but Trudeau government won’t help.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 8 Jun 2017 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

The federal government has refused financial support to a Metro Vancouver organization that helps undocumented refugees find shelter in Metro Vancouver and many will wind up homeless, say critics.

The Inland Refugee Society says its caseload has more than doubled this year as increasing numbers of refugees flood into British Columbia from the United States.

As a result the society has almost spent its entire annual budget and without immediate support will be forced to close, said executive director Mario Ayala.

Metro Vancouver could see a spike in the number of homeless refugees on city streets if the society closes because it’s the only group doing such work, Ayala said.

“We see almost everybody,” he said. “We get referrals from [Canada Border Services Agency] offices, from the Canadian Red Cross, or from anyone.”

The Inland Refugee Society helps refugees find shelter, food and other supports like English classes. Ayala said 80 per cent of the people the society helps cross into Canada on foot.

The society’s goal is to find arrivals a place to sleep the day they arrive so refugees don’t end up sleeping on the street.

The society operates on about $180,000 per year, with much of it coming from the City of Vancouver and Vancity Credit Union.

But with hundreds of refugees arriving in Vancouver already this year, the money is running out.

In a normal year the society assists about 800 people. But just five months into 2017, it has already helped 700 refugees, Alaya said.

With more refugees arriving, Alaya said he’s out of places to house people.

Alaya said he has asked the federal government for help, but was told by the deputy minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marta Morgan, that none is coming.

“Basically what she said is, it’s sad people are coming through and don’t get support, but they cannot do anything,” Alaya said.

Nancy Chan from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said that because the clients served by the society are asylum claimants who aren’t eligible for federal settlement programs, the society doesn’t qualify for funding.

Chan added that the provinces offer some settlement services.

But Alaya said the B.C. government has turned down his request for help too.

He said that refugees tell him they’ve fled the U.S. because they’re “afraid of the new government” and they decided to come to Canada after hearing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message of welcome to refugees.

Federal NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said that if Trudeau is going to tout Canada as a safe and welcoming place for refugees, the government must support them when they arrive.

“It’s shocking to me,” Kwan said. “The minister just turned a blind eye, just completely ignoring the situation. I wonder how does this all mesh with the prime minister’s words?”

She said the inaction is indicative of the Trudeau government’s handling of the refugee file.

This year, Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. have seen a major influx of undocumented refugees crossing into Canada from the U.S.

Kwan said settling the thousands of people who make it across the Canadian border has been left up to non-governmental organizations with no help from the Ottawa.

“Asylum seekers believe the prime minister when he says Canada welcomes you, but when they come it’s a completely different story,” she said.

Weeks ago a woman, originally from Ghana, was found in a ditch near the Manitoba border with the U.S. after freezing to death trying to get into Canada.

Without adequate federal support, Kwan fears that undocumented refugees will be forced to brave the streets of Canada.

“People are going to be homeless, where else are they going to go?” she asked. “Already our shelters are full.”  [Tyee]

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