Sask. minister says Canada's failure to fund refugees adding pressure on province

Amid a heated war of words that followed a meeting between federal and provincial immigration ministers, Saskatchewan joined Ontario in choosing not to sign on the official communique released after the meeting.

Saskatchewan and Ontario opt out of signing official communique at meeting of immigration ministers

In a statement, Minister of Immigration and Career Training Jeremy Harrison called on the Government of Canada to fully fund health, social assistance and employment supports for asylum seekers and recently arrived government-assisted refugees. (CBC News)

Amid a heated war of words that followed a meeting between federal and provincial immigration ministers, Saskatchewan joined Ontario in choosing not to sign on the official communique released after the meeting.

"It is the Government of Saskatchewan's position that the government of Canada fully fund supports for asylum seekers that have arisen from recent federal policy decisions," Minister Jeremy Harrison said in a statement.

"Canada has yet to follow through on a commitment to fully support refugee transition and there is now added pressure for provinces to also support asylum seekers."

According to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Immigration and Career Training, the federal government had committed to ensuring that newly arriving refugees would have the health, housing, education and social service supports they needed to enter the workforce and build successful lives.

In an emailed response to CBC, the ministry said it estimated costs for providing these services was $15 million.

Ontario's minister responsible for immigration walked out of Friday's meeting between federal and provincial ministers, refusing to sign the communique.

Lisa MacLeod and federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen exchanged a war of words, each charging the other was unwilling to collaborate on the issue of irregular border crossings, which MacLeod said had led to "exorbitant costs" for her province.

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister responsible for women's issues and minister of children, community and social services, left, and federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen exchanged sharp words Friday over Ontario's demands that Ottawa pick up more of the costs associated with irregular border crossers. (Canadian Press photos)

Ali Abukar, executive director of the Saskatoon Open Door Society, said that he could foresee challenges if the provinces and federal government cannot cooperate to provide supports to asylum seekers and refugees, whom he described as "one of the most vulnerable groups" in Canada.

"I think Canada as a country [has] that obligation to protect refugees. If somebody's seeking asylum, they have a right to seek asylum," he said.

Asylum seekers are entitled to a fair hearing, and if it is determined they are refugees, they are entitled to the rights that other refugees get, he said.  

Saskatoon Open Door Society executive director Ali Abukar says he'd like to see provincial and federal governments take a unified approach to supporting asylum seekers and refugees. (CBC News/Olivier Ferapie)

He said he believed the federal government was open to collaborating with all levels of government, with Hussen telling Canada's premiers "the government of Canada will have your back" to provide the resources needed to deal with irregular border crossings.

However, Abukar said he believed there was an expectation that all levels of government had a "shared obligation" to support asylum seekers.

"We would like to see some sort of an approach, a united approach, and a united front from various levels of government to support these people," he said.

Hussen said $50 million has been set aside to provide support to provinces on this file, and the money will begin flowing at the end of the month. In the meantime, he said, Canada is obligated to adhere to the law.

"Once someone is on Canadian soil and claims asylum, we have an obligation domestically and internationally to grant them a fair hearing."

with files from Peter Zimonjic, CBC News