Motion To Ask For Refugee Help

Motion to ask for refugee help

Dave Battagello,
Windsor Star
Published: Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac will bring forward a motion at the next Tuesday's council meeting appealing to the provincial and federal governments to “step up to the plate” to deal with the flood of refugee claimants in Windsor.

She said she wants the governments to develop consistent policies, particularly the feds, who are responsible for immigation policies.

“Do something to address the problem,” she urged.

“Instead, our municipality has been expected to step into this situation because of a flaw in federal immigration policies.”

The refugee influx – there have been 458 Mexican and Haitians in the last two months, mostly coming from Florida where there's been an illegal alien crackdown – “couldn't be happening at a worse time” for Windsor, added Gignac, pointing to the city's 9.6-per-cent unemployment rate, among the nation's worst.

“With the unemployment rate, our social services are already being asked to take on an extra burden. We should be focused on community need and instead we are being asked to deal with something we shouldn't have to be.”

Windsor's social services department and other local agencies are continuing to struggle with the growing influx of Mexican and Haitian refugees flowing across the U.S. border, said Ronna Warsh, the city's general manager for social and health services.

Federal hearings for the refugee claimants are taking too long to play out, while work permits have been slow to be issued because of delays in required federal paperwork and health clearances, she said.

“If they can't work and have no money, we have to support all these people,” Warsh said.

While many of the earlier refugee claimants were Mexicans who have spent years in Florida, nearly all now coming to Windsor are Haitian. out of 458 who have applied to the city for assistance – 100 singles and 99 families – about 40 per cent are Mexican and 60 per cent are Haitian, Warsh said.

The social services department continues to meet regularly with local agency partners involved in the refugee influx, including the health unit, school boards and other support groups

“The worry for us is every day the numbers creep up,” Warsh said.

“In September we had 300, it's over 400, soon it may be at 700. I don't know the end number. I don't know what to expect.”

Ontario's community and social services minister criticized the federal government Tuesday for its failure to respond financially to Windsor's refugee claimant crisis.

“Of course I am disappointed,” said Madeleine Meilleur. “This is a unique situation.

She said while the federal government has advertised in the southern U.S., advising illegal aliens there not to come to Canada, “there is much more to this than that.”

Ontario usually pays 80 per cent of social services costs, with the municipality paying the rest. However, the provincial social services ministry has agreed to pay Windsor's bill in September of $111,575. Queen's Park also remains committed to helping with October's expenditures.

“But we hope the federal government will step in and help the municipality,” Meilleur said. “The province can not do this on their own. We are providing funding in an area of federal government responsibility.”

Meilleur said she has appealed directly to federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley for assistance.

“I asked the minister to help in this endeavour. There was no commitment to help Windsor,” Meilleur said.

Finley's spokesman Timothy Vail did not respond Tuesday to a message left by The Star.

Previously, the federal government has said the social services costs in Windsor are not Ottawa's problem because it already makes transfer payments to the province for these types of programs.