Toronto Mayor Warns City Can’t Handle Refugee Influx (C)

Toronto mayor warns city can't handle refugee influx

CBC News
October 5, 2007

The recent influx of Mexicans into Canada may pose a problem for Toronto's already overcrowded shelter system. The city, says the mayor, just doesn't have the capacity to house any more refugee claimants.

“We've seen an increase in refugee claimants. [They] almost tripled between July and September but we're still under 100 a month. [It] is still challenging our capacity to provide shelter,” Mayor David Miller said on Thursday.

Over the past few weeks, more than 300 Mexicans have arrived in Windsor claiming to be refugees. Most have come from the United States where the Immigration and Naturalization Service appears to be in the midst of a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Many Mexicans in Florida have paid to have refugee applications filled out and have been arriving in Canada seeking refugee status. The Canadian government has issued a warning telling prospective claimants that Canada does not charge a fee for refugee forms and that having the forms will not entitle claimants to any special treatment.

But the would-be refugees keep coming. Some predict thousands more are on the way.

Right now the largest group is in Windsor, Ont., but it's unlikely they'll stay there and most people who work with refugees say they'll probably head to Toronto.

Miller said Toronto's family shelter system is almost full. He said Canadian cities can't afford to support refugees, that it should be a federal responsibility.

“We don't have capacity, though, to take too many more newcomers. Our shelter system is close to capacity,” said Miller. “We're happy to do our part but if the numbers become large financially, we won't be able to.

U.S. 'pushing people' to Canada: refugee claimant

A few of the recent refugee claimants have already relocated to Toronto. Last week Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto told CBC News that more will make the journey down Highway 401, for obvious reasons.

“The lawyers are here in Toronto. Where are the refugee hearings? Here in Toronto. Where is the work? People are going to start coming.”

Miguel Sanchez, his wife and four children seem to be atypical of those who have arrived. They lived well with a house and two cars in the United States. But he said he and his wife also had eight years of living illegally with the threat of deportation to Mexico a constant threat.

“They [are] pretty much closing the doors to illegal immigrants,” said Sanchez, speaking through an interpreter. “They don't want them to live and work there. They just want them to leave.”

Sanchez recently entered Canada through Windsor, but quickly travelled to Toronto. “He feels that the U.S. is kind of pushing people to come to Canada,” said the translator.

Sanchez said he looked north because he wanted a similar environment to suit his U.S.-born children.

He said he doesn't want to be on social assistance and hopes to find work as a carpenter.

Long wait for immigration hearing

The odds of being accepted as a refugee are not good. Fewer than 500 of nearly 3,500 Mexican applicants were successful in claiming refugee status in 2006.

But the people who manage to cross the border will probably be allowed to stay for quite some time.

The backlog of cases to be heard by Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board stands at about 30,000 according to August 2007 figures, which are the latest available.

There is at least a six-month wait for a hearing in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board and the IRB concedes the average processing time for a refugee claim is 14 months.