Canada needs a national strategy for homeless refugee claimants

People fleeing persecution have the right to claim asylum in Canada. Resettled refugees arriving through government-assisted or private sponsorship routes receive housing, orientation, and settlement support. In contrast, federal, provincial, and municipal governments do not have a systematic way to welcome refugee claimants. There is no coordinated, funded national plan.

Consequently, a disproportionate number of refugee claimants end up in emergency shelters. The City of Toronto recorded a 500 percent increase in refugee claimants in shelters from 2021 to 2023. The City of Ottawa has recently opened up three temporary emergency shelters and the Ottawa Mission reports record numbers of newcomers accessing its services. Shelters run by non-profit organizations across Vancouver indicate that 60 to 85 percent of their beds were occupied by refugee claimants.

When these shelters are full, refugee claimants are pushed onto the streets. The sharp increase in homelessness of refugee claimants across the country highlights the pressing need for a more sustainable system to protect refugee claimants’ rights to asylum and housing. The recent death of Kenyan asylum-seeker Delphine Ngigi while waiting for a shelter spot in Edmonton underscores the tragic human costs of current policy failures.

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