Asylum seekers who crossed the border into Quebec now finding their way into Manitoba
Welcome Place starting to track new trend of refugees coming here to file their claims
Manitoba is beginning to see a wave of secondary refugee migration coming to the province from Quebec.
Welcome Place — the first point of contact for most asylum seekers who enter the country through Emerson — began tracking the numbers in the third week of May and sending them to the province.
So far, 12 people who travelled across the border into Quebec have subsequently filed their refugee claim in Manitoba.
"We felt that this may become a trend. So we just want to make sure that we as an agency are prepared to handle it if this becomes a pattern and it continues to grow," said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, which operates Welcome Place.
'We didn't see that last year'
Chahal said she has heard people are crossing the provincial border because the wait for a refugee hearing in Manitoba isn't as long as it is in Quebec, they don't speak French, or they feel better connected with local refugee communities in Winnipeg.
"We didn't see that last year. We're only now experiencing it. So we're trying to be proactive about it," she said.
Last week, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced $50 million would go to Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to ease the housing costs for new refugees.
While Quebec received $36 million, Manitoba received $3 million.
"We're pleased that our efforts on this challenging front have been recognized and we appreciate the federal government's response on some of the costs incurred by provinces," wrote Premier Brian Pallister in a statement.
Chahal said although the total refugee claimant numbers are not as high as last year's, they're still significant and her agency averages about 50-70 claims per month.
Between January and May 31, Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council has helped 330 refugee claimants.
There were 585 refugee claimants in the same time period last year.
Chahal said she is eager to see how the province allocates the $3 million.
"It's a good start. I think we have to look at things beyond the temporary accommodations that are necessary to service the client," she said.
While her agency gets dollars from the province and federal governments to initially support the claimants, Chahal said there is still much to do after the first couple of days.
She said Welcome Place staff are overwhelmed with helping claimants navigate the province's social and legal systems, file their claims, get set up with local services including Legal Aid and prepare for their hearing.
Despite support from volunteer law students from the University of Manitoba and the Salvation Army, it's still significant, she said.
Other costs include language and interpretation services and supporting people with basic needs like food, medications, financial support, even strollers.
There are 60 beds between Welcome Place and the Salvation Army set aside for temporary lodging for refugee claimants.
"If all of a sudden we start seeing the surges that we saw last winter, that's not going to be enough," said Chahal.
With files from Erin Brohman