Premier says Manitoba will 'absolutely' help refugees

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says "Yes, absolutely" in response to the call for help from organizations helping refugees coming into the province. But says Ottawa must help and there are other factors to be considered.

Brian Pallister also seeks agreement with Ottawa on refugee influx

Premier Brian Pallister says Manitoba will help agencies with the growing refugee influx, but wants Ottawa's help as well. (CBC News )
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says "Yes, absolutely" in response to the call for help from organizations helping refugees coming into the province, though he wasn't specific about what form that assistance might take.
Premier Brian Pallister says help for refugees must be balanced with community safety and concern for immigrants who have waited years to be allowed in. (Lyzaville Sale CBC News)

Pallister says his government not only has to help the refugees, but also reassure residents near the U.S. border.

"It's not an unprecedented situation in our history, but it is an emerging situation of real concern. It's of concern not just to the refugees themselves - we are all concerned for their safety - and should be. But it's also a concern for people in the communities that are directly affected," Pallister said.

Welcome Place, which helps newcomers settle with temporary housing, has no more rooms for refugee claimants who may still be coming to the city.

Rita Chahal, the executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, told CBC News on Monday she wants the province to open up some buildings it owns to house people who are walking across the border. Chahal says some of those buildings could be ready to inhabit within a few days.

Rita Chahall says Welcome Place has reached capacity. (CBC News )

Pallister says when the request comes through the province will act on it. He says several provincial departments are working on a strategy to make sure the province gets the best results with its assistance to other organizations. 

"I think the concern for the people who are coming in to the city of Winnipeg, principally the city of Winnipeg, looking for support and help in a transitional way, has to be addressed," Pallister told CBC News.

Numerous factors at play in refugee situation

Pallister said the refugee situation wasn't likely one to go away quickly. In a veiled reference to the American political situation and the Trump administration's refugee policy, Pallister suggested Manitoba could see ongoing traffic over the border for the next four years. He says Manitoba has to be "careful to do the right thing."

The premier also suggested the newcomers present governments with the need for a "balancing act."

"We have people who have waited many, many years to come in legally, into Canada and into Winnipeg. We have the provincial nominee program, which we are committed to getting those wait times down by the end of March. But they've been [waiting] five, six years, sometimes," Pallister said.

Ottawa plays a major part in not only with the current refugee situation but in assisting the province in settling Syrian refugees.

"There is a federal role to play here as well. It's important that we have that dialogue too," Pallister said.

Manitoba is in discussions with the federal government on better support for Syrian arrivals, but Pallister wants some kind of agreement in managing the current situation, especially as the province will have to provide assistance almost immediately.

Ottawa monitoring refugee influx in Manitoba

"It's always better to get that understanding early. We are still fighting claims with Ottawa on disaster relief and under medical transport that [were] incurred years ago. So it is always better to have that agreement in advance," Pallister said.

In Ottawa, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen was noncommittal when asked about an increase in funding to deal with the current influx.

Ahmed Hassen, the federal minister responsible for refugees, wouldn't commit to extra funding for the influx of refugees in Manitoba. (CBC News)

 "We already … fund a lot of settlement agencies on the ground that are already helping and are doing a lot. We are also on the ground with [the Canada Border Services Agency] and the RCMP and so on. We continue to  monitor the situation closely and we'll respond appropriately," Hussen said Tuesday.

Pallister acknowledged several organizations dealing directly with the ongoing refugee situation and the Winnipeg Foundation for a recent donation to assist with the effort.

"It is a beautiful example of the way in which we go about helping others," Pallister said.


Sean Kavanagh

Civic affairs - city hall reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than 15 years of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including as the CBC's provincial affairs reporter.