Toronto should invest in long-term refugee solutions, group says

Published On July 17, 2018 | By caitlynclancey | News, Politics

The federal government announced Toronto will receive $11 million in housing support for refugees, which one refugee organization says will be best utilized if invested in long-term solutions. Above: My Light is Your Light, neon artwork by artist Alaa Minawi displayed at the Distillery District as an expression of the struggle of refugees. (FLICKR/Snuffy)

Caitlyn Clancey

The Canadian government has pledged $11 million to Toronto in housing support for asylum seekers, but one refugee organization said the money would be most effective if invested in long-term solutions.

Lucy Chaimiti, executive director at Adam House, a supportive housing program for refugee claimants, said she hopes the City of Toronto will use this money in a way that will benefit refugees long-term rather than just investing in more quick-fix solutions.

“[Toronto] should invest in refuge-specific shelters and community-based organizations, like ours, to increase our capacity,” she said. “This will provide a longer-term home for refugees where they can really settle in and integrate and get the information they need, rather than being shuttled from place to place.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada stated in a press release on Monday that the federal government will directly provide Toronto with $11 million in “the upcoming weeks” to assist in housing support. This money is part of the initial $50 million funds the government pledged in order to assist provinces with costs associated with the influx of refugees.

“Toronto has a long history of welcoming refugees and newcomers, and in recent months has accommodated many asylum claimants in an already strained shelter system,” the release said.

“Although the number of irregular border crossers in June dropped for the second month in a row, the lowest in the last year, the federal government continues to actively engage with its partners to develop contingency plans in order to support the municipalities in the provision of temporary housing,” it stated.

The release noted the number of incoming refugees to Canada decreased in the past several months. In April 2018, there were about 83 asylum claims per day, while in May that number dropped to 57, and by June there were about 39 claims per day.

As the Aug. 9 deadline for asylum seekers to leave their temporary homes at Humber and Centennial College residences approaches, refugees are uncertain about their future. (CAITLYN CLANCEY)

Toronto is currently home to hundreds of refugees, 800 of whom have been housed temporarily at Centennial College and Humber College dormitories. Some claimants are beginning to worry as the Aug. 9 deadline to leave the residences draws closer.

A young female refugee staying at Humber, who asked to remain anonymous, said the “uncertainty” of the impending deadline is “scary.”

Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in the release the federal government has a clear plan for managing the pressures of asylum seekers.

“Our largest cities have shown tremendous leadership in their response to the recent influx of asylum seekers,” he said. “Toronto and Montreal, as major population centres, face the greatest challenges when it comes to housing asylum claimants, and we will continue to work with them to come up with long-term, workable solutions to those challenges.”

The support comes after a public spat last week between Hussen and Lisa MacLeod, the new provincial Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. The province wanted more support in caring for refugees.

Mayor John Tory, who has repeatedly called for help in housing the hundreds of refugees in Toronto, voiced his support for the federal government’s pledge in a series of tweets.

Chaimiti said Adam House has been feeling a significant strain since a large influx of asylum seekers came to Toronto.

“The biggest impact of this has been the amount of walk-in clients that we’ve seen over the past 18 months, people who just drop-in looking for shelter,” she said. “We’re generally full at the time, so we have to turn people away or think of creative ways to help people out. It’s put a strain on our frontline staff, for sure.”

Chaimiti said the $11 million may go towards regaining the balance in the city’s refugee budget or towards providing more temporary measures, but hopes the money will be instead be invested in longer-term solutions.

“We’ve often discussed the need for an information center for refugees,” she said. “This would be a place where those who may not be in refugee-specific shelters or homes can get information on the immigration and settlement process.

‘It’s really all about getting these people the care they need,” Chaimiti said.

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