We in Manitoba find ourselves in need of a serious discussion about how to coordinate services, including lodging, for the refugee claimants who are continuing to cross the Canada-US border at Emerson, Manitoba. This involves puzzling out the place of supports and services in the broader refugee system as well as locating refugee claimants within this system.
For this, some context is required. In ‘What does it take to house a Syrian refugee,’ (CCPA MB publication January 2017) we argue that the temporary housing supports that had been afforded to the ‘first wave’ of Syrian arrivals in Winnipeg (during December 2015-March-2016) should be both rendered permanent and extended to all Government Assisted Refugees (GARs). While there was an impressive mobilization of supports at the federal and provincial levels during the ‘Syrian refugee crisis’ – including, crucially, Rent Supplements — such supports were temporary and not extended to other GARs.
The reasoning for extending and regularizing these supports in the case of GARs is simple. Adequate and decent housing is the first step to ensuring successful the successful resettlement of refugees after violent displacement. The fates of such refugees – which, it must be stressed, are people who cross international borders seeking refuge from violent conflict and displacement due to circumstances not of their doing, nor choosing – should not be subject to the whims of elections cycles.
Referred to Canada by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, GARs are provided with income support for up to a year at the social assistance level that corresponds to that of local (i.e., provincial) rates. This includes a monthly shelter allowance, which corresponds to provincial shelter allowances, and a basic allowance, which is determined by family size and age, corresponds to provincial Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) rates, and includes a monthly amount for food and incidentals. Privately-Sponsored Refugees (PSRs), on the other hand, are to have their basic needs met by their sponsors for up to a year, or until they are self-sufficient, whichever comes first.
As we and others have argued elsewhere, the systems for GARs and PSRs are not perfect. But, at least there are systems in place meant to provide for their basic needs. Refugee Claimants are neither GARs, nor PSRs, however. In other words, they are neither government sponsored, nor privately sponsored. Generally, refugee claimants make their claim at ports of entry. However, Manitoba has seen an increase in refugee claimants risking dangerous conditions to cross the Canada-US border because they are unable to make a refugee claim at a port of entry – hence, they cross the border irregularly. This is largely due to the 2004 US-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires claimants to make their claims in the first ‘safe’ country they enter. For those with outstanding refugee claims in the US, an unfair hearing – which is increasingly conceivable — can result in deportation from the US.