Treatment of African asylum seekers a national disgrace

by Arnold Auguste
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Publisher/Senior Editor
“Canada will continue to support the world’s most vulnerable people who seek our protection.”
That was Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announcing one-time funding for the City of Toronto to help with a crisis that saw hundreds of African asylum seekers shut out of shelter.
It was an interesting comment since Fraser and his government had refused to provide support for a group of Black “vulnerable people” from Africa who were forced to sleep on a Toronto street for weeks on sheets of cardboard they plucked from the garbage, people who came to this country to “seek our protection”.
Fraser and the feds refused to step up initially claiming that it was the city’s responsibility to look after the asylum claimants on its streets while the city said it had run out of funds and was unable to accommodate the growing number of individuals seeking protection.
This appears to have been a power play on the part of the city, holding the refugees as pawns to force the feds to come up with some extra cash. And it didn’t seem to bother those calling the play that these were actually human beings desperately in need of help.
It also doesn’t escape us that these asylum seekers were Black people.
Over the past few years, we have had all kinds of refugees come to this country seeking sanctuary and they were received with warmth and hospitality. A few years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was himself present at the airport to welcome Syrian refugees with hugs and warm coats, basking in the spotlight of world attention.
We have also opened our doors widely to refugees from Ukraine, some 170,000 so far of the 800,000 that have already been approved under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, costing about $117 million, which will give Ukrainian refugees the opportunity to become permanent residents and make them eligible for financial benefits of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child.
How come none of these people had to sleep on the sidewalk as part of some jurisdictional power play? How come it is only when Black people seeking help come here that the city’s funds dry up and a debate ensues as to who should foot the bill for them?
The city has no power over who gets to come into this country. That is the responsibility of the federal government which has been known to take pride on the world stage for its humanitarian policies towards refugees and persons facing peril in other parts of the world. As such, the feds should be the ones taking the lead in providing the necessary supports for the newcomers. You let them in, you should be responsible for them.
The federal government’s explanation for the disparity in the treatment of the Africans and other newcomers is that the Africans came here seeking asylum, meaning that they landed on our doorsteps without being pre-screened and pre-qualified for entry into Canada as were the refugees from Ukraine, Syria and other countries. In other words, we weren’t expecting you.
While that may be so, these people didn’t just materialize on our streets as in a Star Trek movie. They came to our borders, we let them in, and we should have known that they would be in need at least of shelter, food and personal care; like a shower, for Heaven’s sakes.
And, eventually, employment so they can look after themselves.
The world is in turmoil and people are moving everywhere as they seek shelter, safety and relief from poverty, famine, oppressive governments and other challenges. They are looking to places such as Canada where they hope to find solace and safety.
There was a time when Canada would not have been that safe harbour. There was a time when most would have been turned away without the slightest hint of regret. Thankfully, those times are no longer, and we are now regarded around the world as a safe, stable country that, to quote Fraser, supports “the world’s most vulnerable people who seek our protection”.
That should have been foremost in the minds of those responsible for the welfare of the newcomers, rather than them haggling over whose responsibility it was to care for them.
How come governments only cry poor when they are asked to help the poor?
When the war in Ukraine broke out, our government didn’t hesitate – and rightly so – to find the money to send help, militarily and otherwise. In fact, when we didn’t have the weapons they needed, we found the money to purchase them from other countries.
The federal government can find money to fund its priorities. Just recently it announced an agreement to give the German automaker, Volkswagen, up to $13 billion in subsidies over the next decade as part of a deal to ensure it builds its electric vehicle battery plant in southern Ontario.
Helping those in need must be more than nice words from our immigration minister. Helping newcomers comes at a cost, a huge cost, depending on how many people show up. And, once they know that they can find refuge here, they will show up, protocols and processes be damned. So, we have to be ready. This latest debacle showed that we weren’t.
Added to the problems of having to find homes for asylum seekers, there is also our own homeless that we have to care for. And we are not doing a great job at that either.
The providing of subsidized or affordable housing can’t be left up to the private sector which is in the housing business to make money. This is the role of government. It has to be. And just as we take our role on the world stage seriously, so too must we take our responsibilities on the home front regarding our poor with the same sense of purpose and urgency.
Others have suggested that you know a country by the way it treats its poor. How do we want to be known?
Added to the distress many of us felt watching the situation with the asylum seekers play out on television was the sense of déjà vu some of us experienced seeing venerable elders such as Jean Augustine and Zanana Akande denouncing the treatment of these African people.
These women have given a lifetime of service to our community, our city and our country. They should be allowed to enjoy their golden years. Yet, here they are, back manning the battlements, fighting the same fights that we thought were long past us.
Our governments at all three levels allowed this to happen. It was a national disgrace. They all should be ashamed of themselves.
On the other side, there was much reason to be proud of how members of our community stepped up to help. That speaks to the kindness and generosity of spirit of our people.
Our government representatives should take note of what kindness looks like.

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