Ottawa

Demonstrators march in Ottawa to demand permanent status for all migrants, refugees

Hundreds of migrant workers and their advocates marched from Major's Hill Park in downtown Ottawa to Parliament Hill Sunday, calling on the federal government to grant full and permanent immigration status for all migrants. 

Federal government says pathway to permanent residency for temporary workers is among 'most inclusive' ever

Hundreds of people marched in downtown Ottawa on July 25, 2021 to demand the federal government grant permanent immigration status to all migrants in Canada. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Hundreds of migrant workers and their advocates marched from Major's Hill Park in downtown Ottawa to Parliament Hill Sunday, calling on the federal government to grant full and permanent immigration status for all migrants. 

Organizers of the march said without permanent immigration status, undocumented people, farm workers, refugees and international students can find it difficult to access basic labour rights, health care and education. They said some migrants feel unable to speak up against abuse and exploitation because their fear of reprisals that can lead to deportation. 

Migrants and their supporters came to the capital from many parts of the country, including Toronto and Montreal.

Abdoul is an undocumented migrant from Senegal and member of the advocacy group Solidarity Across Borders. CBC is not using Abdoul's last name for his safety. 

"Our people are suffering a lot in this country, especially during the pandemic. We feel like we're being excluded. We feel like we are not being taken care of," said Abdoul.

"We know the job we're doing. We're doing the hardest work. We sacrifice ourselves, our family ... I think those people deserve to be acknowledged."

Omar Walcott is a migrant farm worker from Jamaica. He said he fears losing his job if he speaks out about his experience. (Frederic Pepin/CBC)

Omar Walcott, a migrant farm worker from Jamaica who works in the Niagara region, also attended the march.

He said life as a migrant worker is very difficult, and he wants to see permanent status for all workers. 

Walcott said he has travelled to Canada to work for the past 10 years. He said he works seven days a week from from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., lives in a small house with seven other people and fears not being called back for a job next season if he speaks out.

"The conditions here are not good. I'm getting bad treatment from the bosses and [live in] bad housing conditions ... the only thing that can correct that is status," said Walcott.  

Syed Hussan, a spokesperson with the Migrant Rights Network secretariat, says people who live and work in Canada without permanent status can have limited access to labour rights, health care and education. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

As Canada recovers from COVID-19, migrants grow food, care for loved ones and provide essential services, said Syed Hussan of the Migrant Rights Network, which helped organize the march.  

"Migrants are essential to our society, essential to our communities. We work here. We live here. But we are denied equal treatment. We are treated like second class citizens," said Hussan.

"We want the same rights as everybody else."

New pathway to permanent residency

In April, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced a new pathway to permanent residency for more than 90,000 temporary essential workers and international graduates. But organizers of the march said those programs are short-term, piecemeal and exclude too many people.

The pathway includes 20,000 spots for temporary workers in health care, 30,000 for temporary workers in the essential job category and 40,000 applications for international students.

The essential workers and international graduate streams have been closed after the maximum number of applications were submitted, but only 2,989 applications for the health care stream have been submitted, according to the most recent federal data.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the new pathway is among the most inclusive and innovative programs ever launched by the immigration department. 

In his statement, Alexander Cohen also highlighted the Guardian Angels program, which is a targeted program for undocumented health workers.

"This ground breaking program was created specifically to offer a pathway for undocumented asylum seekers who've contributed so much to Canada's fight against COVID-19 in our hospitals and long-term care homes," said Cohen in an emailed statement. 

"These bold initiatives represent a paradigm shift in our immigration system — one that is more inclusive than ever before. We will continue to blaze new trails to welcome more newcomers because we know that immigration is key to Canada's economic recovery and long-term prosperity."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

with files from Radio-Canada's Frederic Pepin

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