Friday, September 29, 2023
HomeWorld NewsCanada newsAsylum seekers bused to New Brunswick left struggling to find help

Asylum seekers bused to New Brunswick left struggling to find help

Jessica arrived in New Brunswick confused and disoriented, stepping off a bus on a cold March night after a more than 10-hour journey from Roxham Road. She knew nothing about Moncton, the city where she had been sent.

“They never told me where we were going,” she said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.

Jessica is one of more than 200 asylum seekers bused to New Brunswick after arriving in Quebec over the international border. Her relocation to Moncton was part of a scramble by the federal government to redirect migrants to other parts of the country.

Several migrants told CBC News they were directed onto buses with no idea where they were going or why, only to arrive in Moncton or Fredericton. The move has placed asylum seekers from around the world in a province where they say there is minimal legal aid, a lack of language interpreters and limited resources to help with basic needs. 

Adults and children stand in line to board a bus at night in a snowy parking lot.
Jessica says after crossing into Canada at Roxham Road, she was directed onto a bus. She says she had no idea where she was going. About 10 hours later, she arrived in Moncton. (Brenda Witmer/CBC)

Jessica fled violence in Ecuador for the U.S., embarking on a harrowing month-long journey through Central America. Fearing for her life, she said she was robbed at gunpoint, traversed a Colombian jungle and spent four days detained in a Mexican jail before finally crossing the border on foot.

After about a month in New York City, she set her sights on Canada after researching an unofficial border crossing called Roxham Road.

CBC News has agreed to protect Jessica’s identity because she fears violence to herself or family members still in Ecuador. 

‘I’ve cried about this many times’

Jessica is living in one of more than 100 hotel rooms reserved in Moncton by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to provide temporary housing to people bused from Roxham Road. 

In March, New Brunswick agreed to accept the migrants after Quebec said it couldn’t handle any more.

The 243 asylum seekers in New Brunswick speak several languages, and local volunteers estimate about half are originally from Latin America. There are migrants from countries around the world, including Angola, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Senegal, Venezuela, Turkey, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.

WATCH |  Meet two asylum seekers and the people working to help them:

asylum seekers bused to new brunswick left struggling to find help 1

Asylum seekers in New Brunswick struggling to find answers on what comes next

9 hours ago

Duration 6:21

More than 200 asylum seekers were bused to New Brunswick from Quebec’s Roxham Road. We hear from two of them about their challenges and meet the dedicated volunteers helping them settle in Moncton.

After arriving in New Brunswick on March 19, Jessica said no one told her information about her next steps. 

“Nobody helps you. You’re in the hotel alone,” she said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.

Jessica said shortly after crossing Roxham Road, immigration officials directed her onto a bus. About 10 hours later, she arrived in Moncton, knowing nothing about the place she had been sent.

Jessica pictured as a dark silhouette
Jessica says she left her home in Ecuador because of threats of violence. CBC has agreed not to use her full name, because she fears repercussions if she has to return. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

She only speaks Spanish and initially struggled to find answers about her next steps. 

“I have cried about this many times. It’s very difficult not having any help, being by myself. It’s very hard,” she said.

“It gets more difficult because they never have a sensible answer that will help.”

‘They were extremely scared’

When asylum seekers first stepped off the buses in early March, most were in need of warm winter clothing. Volunteers with Hola New Brunswick and Moncton Cares, two non-profit settlement organizations, held a clothing drive to help.

Hola New Brunswick has been working primarily with Spanish-speaking migrants. The group has no office, paid employees or government funding, but for dozens of people, it’s a lifeline to accessing resources.

Ana Santana shows brochures and maps to a hidden asylum seeker. We just see his hands holding a booklet
Ana Santana explains to an asylum seeker how to navigate Moncton and access essential services. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Ana Santana, the organization’s operations director, has been meeting dozens of asylum seekers to enrol their children in school. 

“They were extremely scared and frightened when they arrived,” she said.

The first question we were asked by one of the families was, ‘Where are we?’ So we were like, ‘Okay, let’s sit down and explain to you where you are and why you’re here.’ It was hard.”

Legal aid clinic overwhelmed

The influx is being felt at the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic. The Moncton non-profit has more than 200 new claimants to help and only one full-time employee.

“It’s been really challenging for us. We’re definitely over capacity,” said Olivia Huynh, the clinic’s executive director.

When asylum seekers first cross into Canada, they have just 45 days to submit a claim or file for an extension. They need to provide evidence they face significant danger in their country. If the deadline passes, they could be deported.

Olivia working on laptop with legal aid poster showing barbed wire
Olivia Huynh is the executive director the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic and its only full-time employee. The organization has been overwhelmed by the influx of asylum seekers. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Huynh said the refugee clinic is holding information sessions to reach as many asylum seekers as possible. But she said some are submitting basis-of-claim forms without a lawyer — to avoid missing the deadline.

“I think the worst case scenario is seeing people who do have a credible fear of persecution, or a serious risk in their home country failing their refugee claims, and getting deported because they did not have enough resources or support during the early procedural steps of their claim,” she said.

After submitting a claim, eligible asylum seekers are given a hearing date to make a case that they face persecution or danger if forced to leave. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada determines if they should be granted refugee status to remain in Canada.

Arlene Dunn, New Brunswick’s immigration minister, said in a statement the province is providing funding to MAGMA through Opportunities New Brunswick. She said temporary emergency funding is also going to the refugee clinic to hire a full-time lawyer.

Language barriers

Jessica said staff at the multicultural association promised a full list of services, including English classes and connecting her with legal aid. But she said 20 days went by, then they told her they couldn’t help. With time running out, she sold her remaining belongings back home in Ecuador to hire a lawyer.

“I’m afraid of not receiving my documents because I didn’t receive the necessary help at the beginning,” she said in Spanish. “There’s always that possibility of losing everything because I didn’t receive early legal consultation.”

Hola N.B. is also helping a man who fled political violence in Venezuela, fearing his family could be killed. They initially went to Central America, before making a long trek to the U.S. land border, New York City and finally entering Canada at Roxham Road.

Man pictured in silhouette
This man from Venezuelan says he’s trying to learn English online through the public library, but the language barrier remains a struggle. He fled political persecution and is making an asylum claim in Canada. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

CBC News has agreed to protect his identity because he fears repercussions if his family is sent back to Venezuela.

Like many asylum seekers in Moncton, he does not speak English or French. He said he’s trying to learn English online through the public library, but the language barrier remains a struggle.

“I really do not have any opportunity without the language. I’ve been contacted by three different employers and when they realize that I do not have the language they just tell me we’ll contact you,” he said in Spanish.

Asylum seekers are eligible to receive work permits while awaiting their hearings. They’re provided food and housing by the federal government until they’re able to find employment and move into an apartment.

The man from Venezuela said he’s had few opportunities to learn English and wants to take a class so he can find a job.

“It’s very uncomfortable. I’ve always worked and I’ve never depended on anybody,” he said.

Woman holds a binder while looking at a table covered in folders, binders, pencils and other school supplies
Volunteers with Hola New Brunswick, a non-profit organization, gathered school supplies for children who arrived from Roxham Road. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area is working to help migrants at the hotel. But the federal funding it receives is specifically for government-assisted refugees. That means asylum seekers cannot take an English class.

Ron Gaudet, the organization’s chief strategy officer, said he hopes to work with all levels of government to expand existing programs to asylum seekers. 

“Currently, we offer language training to those refugees who come under a particular government status. And by our constitution, that’s what we’re allowed to do,” he said. “We realize we need to be doing more. We want to be doing more.”

‘Not well prepared’

Hola N.B. and Moncton Cares both said they initially received information from the federal government, but are now cut off from any updates about new arrivals.

“I believe New Brunswick was not well prepared,” said Ketan Raval with Moncton Cares. “We didn’t know until very last moment how many were coming, who was coming.”

Three people and a child stand outside at a fundraiser
Ana Santana, Ketan Raval and Tabaré de los Santos are pictured here at a clothing drive to help asylum seekers in Moncton. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Migrant advocates are sounding the alarm over the decision by the federal government to relocate people to New Brunswick.

Aditya Rao, a board member at the Madhu Verma Migrant Justice Centre, said the process of transferring asylum seekers was “botched.” 

“Folks were transferred into a jurisdiction where they literally have no meaningful access to counsel for a process that, if they don’t succeed in, could result in their deportation, possibly to persecution. The federal government has knowingly put people’s lives at risk,” he said.

Better system needed

Volunteers working on the ground expect asylum seekers will continue to arrive in New Brunswick in the coming months.

Tabaré de los Santos, Hola N.B.’s president, said the province needs a better system in place to support the influx of people. His organization went from welcoming one to three migrants a month to a sudden arrival of more than 100.

“‘[It was] definitely overwhelming,” he said. “The situation is better for them, but they still need a lot of help.”

De los Santos said the situation should be viewed as a “reality check.”

“People are going to keep coming. Even if it’s by dozens or just one or two, or in the hundreds like they came now.”

More Related Articles

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every day in the morning.

Select Your Interest:

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here
Captcha verification failed!
CAPTCHA user score failed. Please contact us!

5 Days Trending

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website.