A word from FGM – February 2023

The tragic death of Fritznel Richard, just a few days before Christmas, cast the spotlight once again on the great vulnerability of the migrant persons who manage to make it to our border. Mr. Richard, of Haitian origin, died after having been abandoned in a snowstorm by a smuggler, who was supposed to help him cross the U.S. border on foot.  He had lived here for about a year, but rapidly found it impossible to support himself in Montreal. As we know, both rents and food prices are currently skyrocketing. Mr. Richard was still waiting for the work permit that would have enabled him to earn a living.  With no help and without adequate income, he saw no option but to risk his life, one more time, in the hopes of creating a better future for himself and his family. That agonizing choice, this time, led him towards a cruel death.

Immense needs

You can see the broader picture of this kind of vulnerability in the last two editions of FGM’s Vital Signs of Greater Montreal series, which focused respectively on the situation of women and girls, and housing, in the metropolitan area. In both reports, the data we analyzed confirm that migrants are among the most vulnerable. They are most likely to face the discriminations that lead to poverty and social exclusion. The likelihood that they will experience mental health issues, exploitation or violence is, invariably, higher than average. So is their risk of living in inadequate or unaffordable housing.

In some cases, their fate is even more difficult: homelessness. Indeed, shelters that normally serve homeless people are now seeing migrant persons knocking at their doors. Some shelters estimate that up to 10% of Montreal’s homeless population is now made up of asylum seekers or undocumented individuals. This is an entirely new phenomenon.

Greater Montreal’s community organizations are now also feeling the full extent of the problem: the increasing number of new arrivals is putting great pressure on their limited resources and their capacity to deliver services. Beyond the sheer numbers, there is an added challenge for these organizations’ volunteers and staff. Most of them are neither equipped nor trained to assist individuals experiencing this type of trauma. Cultural or linguistic differences can also make communication more difficult. On top of everything, new arrivals are not yet familiar with our institutions or social conventions. Many don’t know their rights as asylum seekers, refugees or undocumented people. As for the organizations that specialize in assisting migrant persons, they too are overwhelmed.

A better way

Everywhere in the world, political instability, extreme poverty, armed conflicts and – to a greater and greater extent – the impact of climate change, are forcing people to uproot their lives and flee to countries like Canada. Building higher walls to stop them is contrary to the values of humanism, generosity and solidarity that must guide us. It’s also an exercise in futility. If we stop to think about the seriousness of the multiple crises that are pushing migrant persons to flee, then we come to understand that nothing can really stop them from coming. Most sacrifice everything and many are putting their lives in immediate danger to do so. Like it or not, they will continue to make their way to our border.

Our choice then becomes: either marginalize them even more, or welcome them with openness and compassion. From the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s to the Haitian and Syrian refugees of the early 2010s, to those who more recently came to us from Ukraine, Iran and elsewhere, Quebec has always stepped up to welcome those who’ve had to leave everything. We’ve done it before; we can do it again.

Our community sector continues, to the extent that it can, to respond to the call.  As you read on, you will find some examples of the vital work that is going on each day. Thanks to these efforts, those who came here to rebuild their lives can get a bit of respite and dignity. But in order to meet this huge collective challenge, these organizations will need our support. And migrant people will need all our caring and kindness.

Karel Mayrand
President and CEO
Foundation of Greater Montréal

An edited version of this piece has been published in La Presse last week.

FGM’s Stories of the Month

February 2023

The Fonds Vital d’aide aux réfugiés

The Fonds Vital d’aide aux réfugiés supports refugee integration projects.

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The Welcome Collective

The Welcome Collective supports the most insecure asylum seekers in the city.

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Doctors of the World Canada

Doctors of the World Canada holds a clinic dedicated to migrant persons.

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