Montreal

Asylum seekers at forefront of COVID-19 battle still await word they will be allowed to stay

Asylum seekers working as orderlies in long-term care facilities during COVID-19 hoping for permanent residency since Ottawa promised recognition.

'Guardian angels' who work in long-term care concerned about precarious immigration status

Many patient attendants who worked in CHSLDs during the pandemic were refugee claimants who are still waiting to hear if they will be allowed to stay in this country. (Radio-Canada)

Rachel was working as a patient attendant at a private long-term care residence when she caught COVID-19. Now recovered, she has returned to her job there.

"I like what I do. I appreciate my job," Rachel said. "But I have to leave my daughter in daycare, which isn't the safest … putting my life at risk and exposing my daughter."

Rachel came to Canada from Haiti illegally with her daughter in 2017.

CBC has agreed not to identify her by her real name, given her precarious immigration status.

At the height of the pandemic, long-term care facilities (CHSLDs) relied on orderlies from temp agencies to meet residents' increasing needs.

The premier called those working on the front lines "our guardian angels," and used his daily news briefings to thank them for their hard work and dedication.

But he stopped short of promising refugees and asylum seekers a place in Quebec, saying applications would be examined on a "case-by-case basis."

Monday, Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault  said even if Quebec wanted to do more, "there is a part of this that is the responsibility of the federal government over which we have no full control."

Pending promises

According to Radio-Canada, the federal government is currently preparing a program that would grant permanent residency to asylum seekers employed as essential health-care workers during the pandemic.

For many asylum seekers, including Rachel, working in CHSLDs is their last hope at permanent residency.

Rachel caught COVID-19 while working at a CHSLD. Now she's back at work, hoping she'll be allowed to stay. (CBC)

Frantz André — who helped found the Action Committee for People without Status — says since May, he's been getting hundreds of phone calls a day from asylum seekers anxious to know they will be allowed to stay.

"A lot of them are depressed to the point of being suicidal," André said.

In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC it's still working with provinces to see how they can recognize "those who are working hard on the front lines."

"We are all particularly grateful to the refugee claimants who are doing such important work taking care of our seniors," said Lauren Sankey, a spokesperson for the department.

'Playing with people's lives'

André says the government's slow response is irresponsible.

"It's easy to make promises, but they're playing with people's lives," André said. "Those guardian angels are human beings. They have the same ability to go through challenges, anxieties and anguish and maybe more so than us."

Rachel says she is staying hopeful until she gets an answer.

"You see all our effort, all the work we do," Rachel said. "To make us go through all this stress with our kids … If you're going to promise something, just do it once and for all."

With reporting by Chloe Ranaldi

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