Saturday, April 20, 2024

Refugees placed in Niagara Falls hotels asked to find new accommodations

First Published:

More than 100 refugees placed in Niagara Falls hotels by the federal government have been asked to vacate with just 45 days’ notice. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed the information via email Thursday evening. 

The IRCC says this group of refugees was asked to find alternative accommodation because they received a positive decision on their asylum claim meaning they’re now protected persons and are no longer eligible for temporary lodging. However, community organizations say less than two months’ notice, is too short. 

Nearly 140 refugees living in hotels across Niagara Falls have been given a deadline of Apr. 22 to find new housing.

Some of the newcomers feel ready to build their lives on their own, but some are still unprepared. 

“I think, I think it’s rushed. I talked to them. They feel bad. If they have children. They feel bad,” said Bonaventure Otshudi from the Centre de Sante Communitaire Hamilton Niagara.

The IRCC says refugee claimants are expected to look for permanent housing while they’re being accommodated and their staff along with other providers are working closely with refugees to help them. 

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But what happens after the Apr. 22 deadline is unclear. 

“If the 22nd arrives, and they find nothing, what is going to happen? When you ask that question to the IRCC, no answer,” said Otshudi.

Immigration lawyers say it depends on what category of refugee they fall under. 

“If they are not government-assisted refugees, if these people came to Canada on their own volition seeking asylum, then the federal government arguably doesn’t owe them a legal obligation to provide them with anything above and beyond what other people in the province of Ontario are entitled to,” said immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges.

The department says cities receive funding through the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP) to address pressures from a surge of asylum claimants.

Niagara Falls mayor Jim Diodati was not available for an on-the-record interview on Friday. But, a spokesperson said the city hasn’t received any additional funding yet from the federal government to help address this issue. 

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The IRCC says it is in the process of issuing a payment of $912,000 to the Region of Niagara.

Some of the refugees have also been asked to move to other hotels while they look for more long-term accommodation. A move advocates say is another disruption. 

Pastor Wally Hong, from the Drummond Hill Presbyterian Church, works with refugees and suspects some hotels have opted out of their contracts with the IRCC because spring has arrived.

“Many of them are under far greater stress than I’ve seen them before. In certain cases I have heard that in a regular-sized room, they would put three bunker beds which means up to 6 people would be sleeping in one room when they were relocated” said Hong which makes the situation even more stressful.

The Wyndham Garden is one of the hotels in Niagara Falls housing refugees while they search for their own homes. Insiders speaking anonymously told CHCH News the hotel is so full it hasn’t accepted new bookings for a year. 

With reports families who booked rooms for the upcoming eclipse have had their reservations abruptly cancelled. 

READ MORE: Hamilton mayor intends to use strong mayor powers for affordable housing

Figures released from the IRCC earlier this week show the federal government has spent close to $115 million housing asylum seekers at hotels in Niagara Falls over the last year. 

Nearly 5,000 asylum seekers were sent to hotels between Feb. 1, 2023 – 2024, with their rooms, meals, services, and security fully paid for. 

Most of the asylum seekers sent to hotels in Niagara Falls were from Nigeria, Kenya, Colombia, Venezuela, and Turkey. 

In an email to CHCH, the IRCC shared a breakdown of the number of hotel rooms leased across Ontario as of Mar. 25. 

Niagara Falls has the most leases, with 1,367 rooms at 6 hotels. Followed by Mississauga with 560 rooms at 7 hotels. Then Windsor with 414 rooms at 2 hotels.

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