Winnipeg charities appeal for financial help to support refugees

Welcome Place is appealing for money from the public and private sector to help house the increasing number of refugees trekking overland into Canada near the Emerson, Man., border.

'Right now our immediate need is financial,' says Rita Chahal executive director

Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, is appealing for the public and private sector to make financial donations to help her organization support refugees. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Welcome Place is asking for financial donations from the public and private sector to help house the increasing number of refugees trekking overland into Canada near the Emerson, Man., border.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, which runs Welcome Place, said on Monday it has reached capacity at its three temporary housing units, which each have room for five people.

"This afternoon is really about making a formal request and appeal to the public and to the private sector for direct financial support," said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

On Monday the Winnipeg Foundation announced it is giving Welcome Place $33,000 in grants to help kick off their fundraising campaign. Of the amount, $23,000 came from an anonymous donor.

On Saturday alone, Welcome Place assisted 21 refugees who crossed into Manitoba from the United States. The group included one family with three young children, including a six-month-old baby. Most are from Eastern Africa originally — Djibouti and Somalia.

Manitoba RCMP said a total of 28 people jumped the border near Emerson on the weekend. The year-to-date the total number of people who have crossed the border for 2017 is 69, said RCMP.

On the previous weekend 22 people crossed the same frozen fields to claim asylum in Canada. 

Since April 2016 Welcome Place has worked with nearly 300 refugees, where on a typical year they would handle between 60 and 70 claimants, said Chahal.

Welcome Place does not have the capacity to accept donations of food, clothing or furniture, said Chahal, but they work with other organization that do, including the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute.

The Salvation Army stepped up and offered beds for all 21 people.

"I can't tell you how incredible this community is, we have all come together," said Chahal.

Her staff has been working around the clock, driving refugees to Winnipeg and helping them prepare their refugee documentation and applications, she said. The charity has also reached out to law students in Winnipeg to help them process claims.

Chahal expects more refugees to arrive in Manitoba and when they do, they will need the funds to properly support them.

"Right now our immediate need is financial," said Chahal. 

"We need the resources to staff people, to recruit and to work with the clients directly as well as find places for [refugees] to stay."

Chahal said she has yet to speak directly with the province but when they do, her organization is asking for public housing to be immediately made available to shelter the asylum seekers.

In response, Housing Minister Scott Fielding said the government "is committed to ensuring that we continue to live up to our reputation for compassion."

"This will require us to achieve the delicate balance between our responsibility to assist those crossing our border in need of a helping hand with the needs of Manitobans in need of supportive services, including social housing," said the emailed statement from the minister.