Sudbury gathering presses for migrant rights

According to the Migrant Rights Network, which coordinated the Sunday actions, at least one in 23 people in Canada lacks permanent resident status, denying them equal rights and protections

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A small but committed group gathered Sunday outside the constituency office of MP Marc Serre in Val Caron as part of a four-city rally in support of migrant rights.

“The campaign is about status for all and to call on the prime minister to keep the promises he made,” said deMarie Bah Jean, outreach and communication officer with the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre.

Jean, who hails from Benin in West Africa, said the Justin Trudeau government pledged last year to “create a plan to ensure everyone in the country has permanent resident status,” but many newcomers still remain in limbo, lacking the protections afforded to most Canadians.

Ottawa “did do something but they need to do more,” he said.

Jean said he came to Sudbury about six years ago and feels personally secure, as he obtained permanent status as a student, but the same isn’t true for many others who have come to the area for work or to escape strife in their homeland.

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“I’m OK but many don’t have that privilege,” he said. “It’s up to the permanent residents to speak out because we are kind of protected. Most of the people who came to the rally were permanent residents and they came to speak for the voiceless.”

Jean said migrant workers — and especially farm labourers — have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

“During this pandemic most were stuck with one employer and couldn’t do much because they were provided housing through the employer and didn’t have transportation,” he said. “They couldn’t reach out to their family or travel, and also they can’t speak out because they don’t have the rights and could be facing deportation.”

According to the Migrant Rights Network, which coordinated the Sunday actions, at least one in 23 people in Canada lacks permanent resident status, denying them equal rights and protections.

“Despite repeated calls and promises for immediate action, the federal government continues to respond to this crisis with partial, piecemeal and inadequate policies that shut most migrants out, including refugees, undocumented people and migrants in essential sectors,” the network said in a release.

Meanwhile, Canada has “shut its doors to refugees” during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization said.

“Only 18,500 people were able to apply in 2020 because of border closures, less than a third of the previous year’s total of 58,378 applications,” the release states. “The situation is worse in 2021, with only 2,245 people able to apply in the first three months of this year.”

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Apart from the rally in Sudbury, similar actions were held simultaneously Sunday in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Toronto.

“Despite talk of being a ‘welcoming’ country and wanting to improve rights for migrant workers, Canada only accepted 25,000 refugees in 2020 — a 50 per cent reduction from the previous year,” said Sarom Rho, organizer at the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in Toronto.

“Existing ‘pathways’ and new temporary programs recently announced by the government continue to deny permanent status to the majority of migrants, particularly undocumented residents.”

At least 13 farm workers have died already in 2021, pointed out Byron Cruz of Sanctuary Health in Vancouver, most of whom were in federally regulated quarantine at the time.

“The government has done nothing to prevent these avoidable deaths,” Cruz said. “Families are being torn apart and the death toll is rising — when will the government act?”

Nannies and house cleaners who hail from other countries are also subject to “abuse, job loss, and years-long waits for responses to their PR (permanent resident) applications,” said Julie Diesta of the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights. “The government’s ‘pathway’ programs, with their unfair language, education and work requirements, are traps that force care workers to stay with exploitative employers and leave them in limbo, separated from their families, for years.”

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Many of Sudbury’s newcomers “came as refugees and need the appropriate documents to work,” said Jean.

To obtain status, they must travel to Toronto for immigration hearings, an inconvenience made all the more tricky during a pandemic.

In one case this requirement led to an awful tragedy — Uche Osage, a Nigerian newcomer, was returning to Sudbury from Toronto on Jan. 1 of last year when her vehicle struck a rock cut and all three of her children were killed.

“I don’t see why they can’t have this service is Sudbury,” said Jean. “So that’s another thing we are fighting for, to bring those trials back to Sudbury.”

More than 400 organizations and thousands of people have so far joined the Migrant Rights Network’s call for full and permanent immigration status for all migrants.

To learn more or add your voice to this campaign, visit migrantrights.ca/status-for-all.

jmoodie@postmedia.com

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