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Coronavirus: Quebec groups push for residency status for asylum seekers on front lines

Asylum seekers on the front line in Quebec’s COVID-19 crisis
WATCH: Asylum seekers are on the front line in Quebec's COVID-19 crisis, say advocates.

Community groups and politicians are pushing the provincial and federal governments to recognize asylum seekers working on the COVID-19 front lines.

They argue that the workers, many of whom live in Montreal North — a COVID-19 hot spot — are putting their lives on the line to protect the population, and are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and therefore should be granted residency.

READ MORE: Montreal groups demand the collection of race-based data during COVID-19 testing

According to Franz André with the Non-status Action Committee, an organization that supports asylum seekers, many are working two jobs, either as caregivers in CHSLD’s or in other front-line essential service jobs that put them at risk of contracting the virus.

“One man actually brought COVID-19 home and his wife and his child [are] now infected,” André said.
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He added that about 50 of the 200 workers and families he helps in Montreal North have been infected so far.

“We also know of a gentleman that died, Marcelin François, and it’s one of the same cases,” he told Global News.

André and others have launched a petition demanding that the federal government grant asylum seekers residency status.

“When you send people into a battle and we win the battle, you give them a medal,” André pointed out.  “The medal we should give [asylum seekers] is a special program that says that you are now a resident of Canada.”

READ MORE: Montreal-area community groups work to help minorities navigate COVID-19 crisis

Advocates are also putting pressure on the Quebec government to recognize the work of asylum seekers. On Wednesday, the MNA for Marie-Victorin Catherine Fournier introduced a motion in the National Assembly.

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“To recognize all the work done by the asylum seekers right now in our CHSLD’s in Quebec since the beginning of the sanitary crisis that we live now,” Fournier said to Global News.

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The motion put forward by Fournier also proposed that the provincial government ask the federal government to grant the refugee applicants residency status.

“The CAQ refused to debate my motion,” she said. “I really don’t understand why.”

Next steps for Canada’s immigration system
Next steps for Canada’s immigration system

One group of Montreal artists has found a way to thank immigrants including asylum seekers by creating a video online about the diversity among caregivers.

“It was important for us to create a piece of art that would recognize these people that contribute to society, but are sometimes undervalued,” explained Fabrice Vil, one of the artists who created the video.

He said the group will launch a second video in a few days with the same theme.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: The Liberals promised more immigration by 2021. Can that still happen?

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But André wants more and hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does grant the special status to the more than 1,000 refugee applicants he estimates are working on the front lines in Quebec.

“I feel Mr. Trudeau has an obligation to do it,” he insisted.  “It’s not an option.

In an email statement, Nancy Caron, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said “all eligible asylum claimants receive a full and fair hearing on the individual merits of their claim at the independent quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.’

She did not say if they are considering a special status for these asylum seekers.