Migrant workers and other non-permanent residents — many of whom have been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic — took to the streets in cities across Canada on Saturday, calling on Ottawa to grant them greater rights and protections.
Temporary foreign farm labourers, care workers, international students and undocumented workers who have been working throughout the pandemic as “essential workers” say they are being left behind by the Canadian government.
“Our people are literally starving. People are dying, not even to grow food, but to grow flowers and grapes for wine. Domestic workers are trapped in homes by employers who won’t let them out because migrants are seen as carriers of disease,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis.”
Many migrant workers have fallen ill and cannot access medical treatment, while others have not received wage top-ups offered to other essential workers.
Meanwhile, migrant or undocumented workers and asylum seekers who have lost employment due to the pandemic are ineligible for emergency income supports such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, making them even more vulnerable.
It all stems from their non-permanent status in Canada.
Canada’s labour laws, social services, health care and education systems offer different levels of access to non-permanent residents _ a reality that advocates have long decried as intrinsically unjust. The pandemic has now exacerbated those inequities and has placed migrant workers at significant personal risk, Hussan said.
“What we weren’t planning for is the absolute misery and chaos that would be caused in a public health pandemic,” he said.
Demonstrations organized by the Migrant Rights Network were held Saturday in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax in front of offices of members of Parliament, including the office of federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
Around 100 protesters plastered Mendicino’s Toronto office windows with posters of Juan Lopez Chapparo, Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, and Rogelio Munez Santos _ three migrant workers who died from the COVID-19 virus in June while working on Ontario farms.
Their demands to Mendicino and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were simple: provide full immigration status to all migrants who are working in Canada.
The federal Liberals have said they are working on a program to grant permanent residency specifically to asylum-seekers working in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of their refugee applications are in limbo due to a backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board and further delays caused by the pandemic, meaning their status in Canada remains uncertain in the long term.
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