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Advocates urge aid for migrant farm workers in B.C. displaced by floods

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Advocates for migrant farm workers in British Columbia are pleading for help, amid the devastating impacts of flooding in southwestern B.C.

Byron Cruz with the Sanctuary Health Collective and Migrant Rights Network said up to 700 migrant workers from Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica and the Philippines were displaced by floods inundating the province.

He said at least 150 were staying in shelters, while others have evacuated to farms that aren’t at risk.

Many, he said, have lost everything they had in Canada except for their passports.

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“The workers have had a hard experience,” he said. “They are losing hope that they are going back to the farms.”

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But Cruz said most migrants are more anxious about their job status than their possessions.

Most workers who come to Canada send their pay home, and their families are relying on them for support he said.

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He said most of the farm workers in B.C. are on work permits and contracts that link their right to work with a specific business for a specific time period.

He said that status makes them unable to pick up work elsewhere, and that it is virtually impossible for workers on Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers program to access Employment Insurance.

“The problem with the agricultural migrant workers is the program has put them in vulnerability,” he said.

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“They come with a work permit that’s tied to the one employer, they don’t have an open work permit, and at the same time they’re stuck at the shelter with no access to EI.”

Cruz said his organization as well as diplomats from the migrants’ countries were appealing to the federal government in hopes of coming up with an emergency aid solution for workers.

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Global News requested comment from the ministries of Employment and Social Development and Immigration and Citizenship.

Cruz said that while migrant workers may not be visible to many British Columbians they play a critical role in keeping the province fed.

“Every time we come to (eat at) the table we have to remember that this is a big effort of migrant workers, farmers and everyone who participates in that farm system,” he said.

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“Remember migrant workers are the ones not working eight hours a day, they are sometimes working 16 hours a day for minimum wage and no right to be paid overtime.”

In the meantime, Cruz said non-profits were working to raise money to get pre-paid cash cards to the workers while the workers wait out the floods.

Anyone who wishes to donate can do so through the Migrant Rights Network.

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