An inside look at Toronto’s ‘refugee hotel’ sheltering hundreds of asylum seekers

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Exclusive look at Toronto’s ‘refugee hotel’
WATCH ABOVE: Hotel guests have been mixing with refugees at the Radisson Hotel Toronto East, but some have been complaining about the asylum seekers. Kamil Karamali went to get a first-hand account of the hotel's inner workings – Nov 1, 2018

On the outside, it looks the type of place where vacationers and road-trippers can spend the night.

But the Radisson Hotel Toronto East has been admitting a different type of guest in the past couple of years, which is why it’s been nicknamed ‘the refugee hotel.’

Global News decided to book a room at the hotel to investigate.

A Global News reporter spotted several children making their way in from a parked school bus into the building and then playing inside the hotel lobby.

The service to check-in was quick and easy, but the entrance hall was crowded. People of different races, cultures and languages packed together — waiting for one of the only two working elevators, while the third one was completely out of service.

READ MORE: Police search for suspect wanted in arson at Toronto hotel housing refugees

Once the elevator arrived, mothers and their kids crammed into the tiny space, leaving little-to-no room to move freely.

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COSTI Immigrant Services, an organization that assists local refugees, said more than 570 refugees currently are staying at the hotel — taking up 146 rooms out of the 240 available.

It was discovered the Scarborough Radisson is accommodating asylum seekers after an onslaught of complaints and rumours targeting refugees started spreading online.

A wave of negative reviews on Tripadvisor called the hotel “dangerous” and complained of “children playing in the lounge,” “refugees everywhere,” and calling the experience very “uncomfortable and undesirable.”

A Tripadvisor review complains about the conditions of the Radisson Hotel Toronto East.

There was even a review that claimed goats were being slaughtered in the bathrooms.

But TripAdvisor told Global News many of the complaints are not from “first-hand travel experience.” It implied that the listing is “being targeted for one reason or another,” and that the website “fights fraud aggressively.”

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The hotel fell under the spotlight once again in early October after a gas can was set alight on the third floor.

Police called it an arson attempt and are still searching for a suspect.

“The hotel has set up security cameras throughout the hotel,” said COSTI’s executive director, Mario Calla. “There are number of security measures that we’ve taken that have calmed the situation.”

READ MORE: Tempers flare at immigration committee, officials reveal asylum seekers to be moved to hotels

Political bloggers also posted a 30-minute YouTube video. They toured the hotel hallways and spoke with staff and people who said they were refugees.

The bloggers also claimed there was graffiti on the walls that said ‘free money’ and feces on the carpet, along with a horrible smell.

“I can only say they’re false,” said Calla. “There’s malicious intent by some around this, but as I say, it bares no resemblance to what we experience at the hotel.”

A Global News reporter staying at the hotel did not notice any odd smells, feces on the floors, graffiti on the walls or burn marks from October’s arson attempt. The room was also very clean and there weren’t any visible issues with the unit.

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The reporter attempted to speak with a guest, but hotel management quickly intervened and said the refugees are “nervous” having media in the building since the arson attempt.

READ MORE: Syrian families fill up Ottawa hotels as federal government pauses flow of refugees

Global News was asked to leave the hotel three hours after checking in, even though the reporter was a paying customer.

COSTI Immigrant Services said about three-quarters of the refugees at the Radisson Hotel Toronto East crossed from south of the border. They entered without status into the U.S. and then made their way across to Canada after President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies and rhetoric.

The City of Toronto says 72 per cent of the refugees in the city are from Nigeria.

“They left because of violence against them in their country,” said Calla. “They have high levels of education. Nine out of ten of them speak English well, which means it won’t take much for them to integrate into our society.”

READ MORE: CBSA told to ‘pick up the pace’ on removing rejected refugee claimants

One of the refugees staying at the Radisson in Scarborough, who goes only by the name Louis, said he left Nigeria with his wife and three children after two of his daughters came under the threat of genital mutilation.

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“We actually ran away. I try to avoid using those words, but we actually ran away,” said Louis.

The Nigerian refugee said he first flew to Tennessee earlier this year, but was warned by lawyers that he would not find work easily in the U.S. as a refugee and there was a good chance of being deported.

Louis said he and his family took a bus up to the Canadian border and crossed over into Quebec before being arrested by police. They eventually made their way to Toronto. He said the hotel has been a godsend.

“It’s first a hotel, then it’s a shelter … I don’t know where those stories came from,” said Louis.

“Not once have I seen any of those things that was reported. Not the goat killing. I mean, who does that? Where do you kill goats? In the bathtub? That’s not possible.

“Then the smell, if it smells, the hotel will do something about it. but it never smells.”

The Radisson Hotel Group tells Global News that “the hotel has experienced no damage to either its public spaces or guest rooms as a result of the temporary accommodations being provided to asylum seekers.”

It said it is their “sole purpose to provide great accommodations, while ensuring the safety and security of all our guests and associates.”

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COSTI Immigrant Services said refugees will continue to stay at the hotel for the foreseeable future since other asylum seekers will arrive to replace those who leave the temporary shelter system.

Meanwhile, Louis said he has a message for Canadians.

“I would like Canadians to know refugees are human first before they became refugees. I think they can just give us opportunities to stay back here,” he said.

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