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Pope Francis reaches out to the statue titled Angels Unawares by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz at the Vatican last September. The statue depicts a group of migrants and refugees on a boat. Advocates are urging political leaders to include refugees and migrant workers in aid support during the COVID-19 crisis. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Groups call for emergency benefits to help non-citizens

  • April 4, 2020

OTTAWA -- Francisco Rico-Martinez knows that many of the people he helps at a Toronto refugee centre are worried about how they and their families could be impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis.

“The people are scared — about the pandemic and about their future,” Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, told Canadian Catholic News in a phone interview.

“They don’t have any money to pay rent, put food on the table. Some of them that we are talking about are families,” said Rico-Martinez, a former president of the Canadian Council of Refugees.

“They are worried they are going to be put out on the street.”

That fear is driving more than 30 community and religious organizations in Ontario that work with refugees, migrant workers and students to plead with the federal and provincial governments to “close the gaps” in emergency funding. They are seeking support for everyone who is in Ontario during the pandemic regardless of whether they are Canadian citizens.

The group sent an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor John Tory and other municipal leaders pledging their solidarity with migrant workers, non-status individuals and their families. The letter, released on March 26, said it is urgent that non-Canadian residents have access to the emergency programs designed to help Canadian citizens weather the financial and health care crisis.

“The people I am talking about are already here,” Rico-Martinez said. “What we are asking for is that these people have access to all the benefits in the emergency programs.”

He wants everyone “with precarious immigration status” to be included “in all emergency benefits and measures for housing, health services, education, employment and income support during the present health crisis,” the letter to the prime minister, premier of Ontario and others said.

Rico-Martinez, who helped draft the letter, said it is urgent to address the issue because if non-citizens can not access support, then everyone will be put at risk during the pandemic.

The religious and community groups are calling on Ontario to bring in an emergency program for three months to cover those who do not qualify for existing emergency support programs.

“In unique times like this, Canadians must come together and not leave anyone behind,” the letter said.

“My concern is that if nothing is done soon, it will be too late,” Rico-Martinez said.

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