Newcomer centre has no more room for border-crossing refugees

A Winnipeg centre that welcomes and houses newcomers is putting out a public call for help after getting another surge of asylum seekers in its door over the weekend.

Welcome Place staff worry they'll run out of resources if asylum-seekers keep pouring into Manitoba from U.S.

Fadel Alshawwa, with the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, brings blankets into a community hall for refugees who have walked across the border in Emerson, Man., on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2016. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

A Winnipeg centre that welcomes and houses newcomers is putting out a public call for help after getting another surge of asylum-seekers over the weekend.

Welcome Place, a temporary home for newcomers in Winnipeg, is full and has no more rooms for refugee claimants who may still be coming to the city Sunday.

"That's a big concern," said Rita Chahal, the executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

At least 21 asylum-seekers were caught by RCMP walking into Manitoba during the wee hours Saturday morning. Among them was a family with a baby and toddler, Chahal said.

"When I held that two-year-old in my arms and the six-month-old, I thought, 'My goodness, what if something were to happen to these folks, you know, in this frigid weather?' And they walked for six hours, this family. It is really heartbreaking."

The surge is the latest in a trend of refugee claimants fleeing on foot to Manitoba from the United States. Chahal said she's worried what will happen if more asylum seekers show up at Welcome Place.

"The numbers, if they keep growing, I don't have the financial resources to hire more staff," she said Sunday.

Chahal said the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council could use more donations or help from other agencies to find places for refugees to stay temporarily. 

She previously told CBC she's had to reassign the centre's few staff away from other programming, such as helping refugees find lawyers, permanent housing and jobs, to keep up with the influx of claims being filed. 

Hospitality House, another Winnipeg home that takes in sponsored refugees, said Sunday it can't help Welcome Place because it also doesn't have room for any more people.

"There is no possibility," said Karin Gordon, who added the home doesn't normally take in non-sponsored refugees and is currently under renovations.

Gordon said board members are meeting this week to see if they can support Welcome Place if another surge of people arrives.

Read CBC's full coverage of refugees crossing the U.S. border into Manitoba


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: