Skip to main content

Fadel Alshawwa, of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, brings blankets into a community hall for refugees that may walk across the border in Emerson, Manitoba.JOHN WOODS/The Associated Press

Manitobans are responding to a call for help from the province's strained refugee services amid a continuing surge of people crossing the border illegally from the United States.

The Winnipeg Foundation announced $33,000 in emergency grants on Monday to support the needs of refugee claimants. The announcement followed the arrival of 21 people over the weekend, largely originating from African countries, who made refugee claims in Manitoba, plus another five on Monday, according to border officials.

"It's going to continue," said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC), who put out a call Monday asking the community and various levels of government for more funding. "We've identified our most crucial need is temporary housing … if anyone comes knocking, we don't have anywhere for them to stay right now."

The influx of asylum seekers from the United States is expected to continue amid uncertainty caused by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order that temporarily banned Syrian refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. That order was blocked by a U.S. federal appeals court last week.

In an average year, MIIC sees 50 to 60 refugee claimants. In the current fiscal year, they've seen around 300 so far, with almost 60 in February alone.

MIIC runs the only temporary housing services for refugee claimants in Winnipeg. Three units are available that can accomodate five people each, but these units were already full when the latest group of 21 refugee claimants arrived. MIIC staff worked over the weekend to transport refugees to Winnipeg and find accommodation for them, according to Ms. Chahal.

Winnipeg's Salvation Army is temporarily housing most of the 21 refugee claimants who arrived over the weekend. Law students from the University of Manitoba have offered to help process refugee claimants to alleviate the strain on MIIC's paralegal employees. Ms. Chahal said she's also pursuing offers of help from municipal and international groups.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Monday that the province and the federal government are discussing options to deal with a rising number of refugees crossing the border from the United States.

Manitoba is not alone in facing a strain on resources for refugee claimants. In British Columbia, the Inland Refugee Society had seen 40 refugee claimants in February as of Friday and 90 in January.

It's a big jump from 2015, when the monthly totals ranged from 6 to 25, said Julia St. Pierre, special projects co-ordinator at the society.

The RCMP could not provide specific figures, but they confirmed that there has been an increase in illegal migration in Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, with the largest increase being seen in Quebec. More than 40 people illegally crossed the border in Quebec this past weekend, according to border officials.

Interact with The Globe