Influx Of Refugees Drops Off

Influx of refugees drops off

Dave Hall
The Windsor Star
Published: Saturday, September 13, 2008

The flow of Mexican and Haitian refugee claimants to Windsor has slowed to between 50 and 60 a month after peaking a year ago, according to the city's department of social services.

Since the influx began, about 1,000 claimants have arrived from the U.S. after fleeing because of fears of a crackdown by U.S. authorities on illegal immigrants.

Jacquie Rumiel, director of programs for new Canadians at the YMCA of Windsor and Essex County, said her agency has helped 123 Haitian nationals since April 1, with 51 of those arriving in August.

Of those 123, 42 have moved to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto citing French language familiarity in the case of the Montreal and Ottawa along with family reasons.

Rumiel said the YMCA has helped just six Mexican claimants over the same five-month period.

“There could well be more because those numbers just represents the newcomers we've seen,” said Rumiel.

Much of the YMCA's funding is provided by the federal government, but a grant from the provincial Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration provides a staff member for 171/2 hours a week to process newcomer inquiries.

Rumiel said the YMCA is essentially a referral service and provides information to newcomers on such issues as employment, funding and housing.

Under Canadian law, Windsor and Ontario are obligated to provide shelter and welfare funds to applicants seeking permanent status while their claims are being processed.

Last year, the city spent $765,000 in the final four months of the year on additional services for the influx of Mexican and Haitian refugee claimants.

The ministry of community and social services picks up 80 per cent of whatever Windsor spends. Last year it also paid Windsor's 20 per cent or about $200,000.

So far this year, Windsor has spent $1.9 million on Ontario Works payments and shelter costs for refugee claimants. The city's share of those costs is $390,000.

But Ronna Warsh, executive director of social services for the city, said the province has taken the position that it won't fund Windsor's 20 per cent share this year because the city should have included that amount in its 2008 budget.

“We disagree,” said Warsh. “We are asking for additional funding because this is still not regular business. We would like additional support because people are still arriving, although not in the same numbers.”

Additional funding to help cities such as Windsor deal with the influx of refugee claimants is a federal responsibility, Michael Chan, provincial minister of citizenship and immigration, said Friday during a visit to Windsor.

“We believe the authority for such funding rests with the federal government and we have been communicating with our federal colleagues, but we have not made very much progress,” said Chan. “We are holding a continuous dialogue to seek additional funding.”

Chan, speaking at a breakfast meeting of Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women, said Ontario absorbs between 110,000 and 120,000 newcomers every year and spends about $600 million on programs designed to help them become integrated into Canadian society.

When the flow of Mexican and Haitian claimants reached its peak last year, more than 450 crossed the border within a two-month period.

Federal hearings for refugee claimants often take months to schedule and work permits are generally slow to be issued.