Montreal’s YMCA is refugees’ first Canadian family

On Apr 2, 2017 The Toronto Star reported: MONTREAL—They arrive with bulging suitcases, carrying infants in car seats, often with little more than a backpack and a shaky grasp of the language and the land. They are fleeing war, despots and persecution in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere for a better life in Canada.

It is a classic refugee tale with a Trumpian twist that has asylum seekers fleeing the land of liberty in fear of deportation, or using easy-to-obtain American tourist visas only to reach the northern beacon across the border.In the first two months of 2017, more than 1,100 people had arrived not by presenting themselves to border officers at a controlled crossing, but by entering the country on foot through a breach in the Canada-United States border to avoid forcible return under Canadian law.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, Quebec accounted for nearly 700 of the total cases in which the RCMP intercepted “irregular” asylum seekers.Upon entry, they are arrested and shackled first by awaiting Mounties, then processed and placed into what is becoming an increasingly burdened system.

For those with no family or friends to take them in, the next stop is the first time in the long journey when they can truly rest their heads. The YMCA shelter in downtown Montreal, near the former home of the Montreal Canadiens, is the place some asylum-seekers meet what they describe as their first Canadian family.

The members of this revolving clan speak different tongues and have endured different traumas, but they’ve all arrived with the same desperate hope to start over.

Access to the facilities is restricted to employees and clients of the YMCA, and officials refused a request to tour the building and observe its operations. Instead, the Star spoke to former refugees who had participated in the programs, as well as people familiar with how they work.Gabriel Mujimbere spent six weeks at the bottom of a YMCA bunk bed when he made a refugee claim in 2015. The HIV/AIDS activist and openly gay young man fled his native Burundi at his family’s insistence, fearful of the laws against homosexuality. For the last two years the country has seen rampant political violence and human rights abuses.

He was far from home and was further still from what he expected when he and a colleague made their asylum claim at the end of a week-and-a-half training session in Montreal.“I thought if we were lucky we would be housed somewhere in a dormitory, in a camp somewhere,” said Mujimbere, now 28.

Thousands of asylum-seekers each year have benefited from this Quebec government program that has been operating since 2010 but remains unique in Canada. Here, staff offer refugees not only emergency shelter with hundreds of beds but also on-site counselling, psychological services and advice about navigating the dizzying new world of forms and lineups and interviews that all refugee claimants face.

Read more at: Montreal’s YMCA is refugees’ first Canadian family | Toronto Star

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