Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday March 3, 2023
Bused out of Quebec, francophone asylum seekers struggle to get medical services
Over the phone, the woman’s voice is regretful but hurried — she says she’s sorry, but if the French-speaking migrant on the other end of the line cannot find someone to translate English, the doctor won’t see him for the medical exam he needs in order to claim asylum in Canada.
CBC News obtained a recording of the phone conversation the man says took place Wednesday in Niagara Falls, Ont.
“It’s not possible to speak with the doctor if you can’t speak English,” the woman tells him in French. “You have to find someone at your hotel to help you.”
“I don’t know anyone here,” Guirlin — whose last name CBC News has agreed to withhold because of his precarious immigration status — replies.
Guirlin and his family are among the more than 5,500 asylum seekers who have been bused by Canada’s government from Quebec’s border with the U.S. to cities in Ontario, including Windsor, Cornwall and Niagara Falls.
They are also among a number of those — mostly francophones from Haiti or countries in Africa — for whom the transfer happened against their wishes since they could not afford to find a place to stay immediately. Their plan all along was to live in Quebec.
Guirlin, his wife, who is six months pregnant, and their four-year-old son ended up in Niagara Falls on Feb. 14. Originally from Haiti, the family had been struggling to make ends meet in Brazil, when they decided to travel north through a dozen countries to make their way to Canada.
When they arrived on Feb. 11 via Roxham Road, the popular irregular border crossing south of Montreal, they were asked by immigration officers where they planned to live in Canada.
“I said we want to stay in Montreal because I don’t speak English and my wife doesn’t either, and she needs to have medical appointments for the pregnancy,” Guirlin said in a phone interview Thursday.
He says they were told in the following days there was no space for them in Montreal, and that they were being sent to Ontario. They boarded a bus with roughly 40 other asylum seekers from a number of other countries last Tuesday. For now, the government has put them up in a hotel. (CBC)