Cornwall residents say they're ready to help flood of asylum seekers

As some residents of an eastern Ontario city seem to welcome asylum seekers with open arms, they're also deploring a lack of information on how to help the newcomers.

'It's like everyone else, they're going to be welcome,' Cornwall resident says

Asylum seekers from the U.S. visit a park in Cornwall, Ont., on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. (Radio-Canada)

The city of Cornwall woke up Sunday with 294 recently settled asylum seekers from the U.S. adapting to their new environment.

But as some residents of the eastern Ontario community seem to welcome them with open arms, they're also deploring a lack of information on how to help the newcomers.

On Sunday morning, Haitian families joined francophone parishioners in a local church.

"I went to church this morning at 9:30 and they were there already. It worked, we clapped our hands, everybody clapped their hands," resident Richard Dagenais told Radio-Canada. 

"It's like everyone else, they're going to be welcome."

Cornwall police have not reported any incidents involving asylum seekers, who can move freely around the city after crossing into Canada illegally. 

Members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons from CFB Petawawa set up tents on the Nav Centre grounds on Aug. 18, 2017. The tents can house upward of 500 asylum seekers. (CBC News)

Residents not informed

In the community, business people and residents are eager to facilitate their integration, but they said they do not know where to head.

"There is a lot of information that is not really well shared, well transmitted, so I think there is still a poor design of who arrived and how they arrived. But once it's out, the people of Cornwall are welcoming and they want to help the world," said resident Alain Legault.

The municipality said Sunday it is well aware of the issue.

"My concern is that we do not have all the information from the federal government. It is not yet clear. And it is difficult for us to answer the residents' questions properly," said deputy mayor Bernadette Clément.

An asylum seeker is processed by RCMP officers after crossing the border into Canada from Champlain, N.Y., in Hemmingford, Que., on Aug. 4, 2017. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Clément said she wants to establish contact with the federal government to see what happens next. City council will hold an emergency meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the issue.

At the Nav Centre, where the asylum seekers are currently being housed, soldiers continued on Sunday to set up temporary housing tents. The 50 tents can accommodate 10 people each.

"Now, the plan is to transfer the management of the camp mid-week, and not before we trust that emergency services …are in place," said Karyn Mazurek, a spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces.

IRCC setting up mobile processing centre

"It is only meant to be very, very temporary lodging in order to allow people to be given an eligibility hearing on-site, and that takes between 24 to 48 hours," said Ahmed Hussen, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Monday.

The ministry is working to set up a mobile processing centre at the Nav Centre so asylum seekers don't have to be transported to Montreal, he said.

"We have eight IRCC staff on-site now. We are adding approximately another 20, and 10 more will arrive next week. So the idea is to process 200 cases by the end of next week, and that will allow people to move very quickly through the site," added Hussen.

From there, people will be "triaged" away to the province they'd like to reside in, and it can take five to seven months for their next hearing, according to Hussen. But in the interim they're eligible for limited health services, and children are able to attend school regardless of their immigration status.

Hussen said the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is also putting "efficiency measures" in place in order to process more cases per month to cut the timeline from months to weeks.

With files from Antoine Trépanier