When the Syrian refugees began to arrive in Canada, Peel Region played a major role in helping re-settle hundreds of them. Close to 821 chose to settle in Mississauga, while 48 chose to settle in Brampton. Peel Region contributed to supporting the settlement of more than 900 government-assisted refugees from Syria.
Now a more severe refugee crisis is unfolding on the US-Canada border and Toronto is finding it hard to host more asylum seekers in city shelters and is pleading for federal and provincial help. The city has welcomed almost 3,000 refugees as of mid-May 2018. So far Brampton and Mississauga have been conspicuously silent on offering to host asylum seekers, who are not from the Middle-East but mostly from Nigeria and elsewhere, but all that could be changing.
As Toronto faces this large influx of refugees, Toronto Mayor John Tory has called for other large cities to help accept newcomers.
On July 6, 2018, Tory held a conference call with the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) to discuss a regional strategy for accepting refugee/asylum claimants.
More specifically, Tory requested that cities identify sites that could be repurposed as temporary housing, and connections to employers for job opportunities.
Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey is the chair of LUMCO, which represents 67 per cent of Ontario’s population through 27 “Big City” Mayors.
Brampton could quite possibly be the destination for accepting new refugees.
“While we continue discussions with the federal and provincial governments about how to further address the ongoing issue of refugee/asylum claimants, Mayors in Ontario are working together on a regional strategy to support the City of Toronto,” said Jeffrey in a recent statement.
“This is a human issue. Cities are on the front lines of this crisis and we believe we have a moral obligation to act to provide shelter and assistance to those in need so that they can start their lives and contribute positively to our communities.”
According to the CBC, 40 per cent of Toronto’s shelter spaces are occupied by refugee claimants as of May, averaging 10 new refugee claimants per night.
According to reports mayors from across the province offered their support including examining existing capacity within their shelter systems, potential temporary housing sites and facilitating opportunities for seasonal and full-time employment.
LUMCO includes Ajax, Barrie, Brampton, Brantford, Burlington, Cambridge, Chatham-Kent, Greater Sudbury, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Markham, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville, Oshawa, Ottawa, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan, Waterloo, Whitby, and Windsor.
Basically, it covers major cities with populations of over 100,000 residents in Ontario, aiming to support and enhance strong and effective large urban governments, according to LUMCO’s website.
It’s true that LUMCO and Tory have called on federal and provincial support too.
With the Ontario Premier Doug Ford at odds with the federal government over their handling of the asylum seeker crisis mayors of other smaller cities notably Brampton and Mississauga must be in a quandary.
When Syrian refugees came to Canada, the GTA social service agencies, groups and individuals were all lining up to offer all kinds of support. There were seemingly ample federal funds for re-settling Syrian refugees as that was of international interest at the time given all that was happening in Syria. However, in the case of the current wave of asylum seekers from Haiti, Nigeria and elsewhere, it is unclear as to how many of these are genuine refugees fleeing persecution and how many are economic refugees. The fact that so many have either flown directly to the US would seem that they had the financial means to convince US visa officials to grant them visas in the first place. Public sympathy therefore is noticeably lower for these asylum seekers as opposed to Syrian refugees who genuinely had their towns and country destroyed and were picked to come to Canada from refugee camps.
With mayoral elections around the corner, few mayors would have the stomach to deal with a politically explosive issue like re-settling refugees. The Syrian refugees were absorbed and welcomed by the large Muslim population as well as others in the Peel Region. Unless there is wide public support to host asylum seekers, mayors would rather not test the waters until after the elections.