Montreal community groups call for help with influx of asylum seekers

CBC News

CBC News · Posted: Jan 25, 2023

Community groups from across Montreal say they are being stretched to the breaking point by the rise in asylum seekers and refugees settling in the city.

"What we see is, on the ground, claimants going in places they would never go to ask for things that, normally, they would have access to," said Eva Gracia-Turgeon.

She is a co-ordinator with Foyer du Monde, a Montreal organization that offers temporary housing and support services to asylum seekers, refugees or those settling without status. 

The mounting pressure on community organizations has forced leaders to question whether they can even continue to offer support services of any kind any more, she said.

Foyer du Monde is one of several community organizations across 13 Montreal neighbourhoods that have come together, forming a coalition to call on the provincial and federal governments for more funding so they can better assist the influx of refugees and asylum seekers coming to the city.

"Our services are stretched to the maximum. We are at 400 per cent of our capacity, without substantial funding to meet the needs," said Jean-Sébastien Patrice in a statement. He heads Cafeteria MultiCaf, a community food service in the Côte-des-Neiges district.

Quebec sees high numbers

In the first two months of 2022, 4,500 people applied for asylum after crossing on Roxham Road, located between Champlain, N.Y., and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

According to data published by the federal government, between January and November 2022, 45,250 asylum seekers arrived in Quebec, a significant jump compared to 2020 and 2021 when pandemic restrictions were in place.

In 2021, by comparison, when the Roxham Road crossing was closed for much of the year, only 7,290 newcomers entered the country through the province.

As a result, the strain on community groups has been growing, and people like France Labelle, executive director of a downtown Montreal youth shelter, have said housing services are among resources unable to keep up with demand.

"It is not that we don't want to welcome these people, because shelters are there to welcome people in need, but the problem is that the network is already overwhelmed," she said.

The community group coalition said regulations limiting immigration and asylum applicants' access to services must be lifted.

They should have better access to French-language classes, subsidized daycares and employment services, the coalition said, adding legal support services should be strengthened.

Quebec government 'very aware'

Quebec Minister of Immigration Christine Fréchette agrees there is a lot of pressure on these community groups, and said there have been discussions to bring relief in the short term with some financial help.

A spokesperson for Chantal Rouleau, Minister of Social Solidarity and Community Action, said the minister is "very aware" of the important work community organizations do and the overload they are experiencing, especially in the Montreal region.

"These resources are in high demand by asylum seekers arriving in Quebec in exponential numbers, mainly via Roxham Road," spokesperson Marcos Archambault said in an email.

"In the past year, our government made historic investments of $1.1 billion over five years to support community action, including organizations that support immigrants."

Quebec is already offering more than its fair share of humanitarian accommodation, and Rouleau will continue discussions with the cabinet, in particular with Fréchette, "to examine the possibilities of doing more for these organizations," Archambault said.