July 31, 2023
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CANADALAND
#906 Refugee Crisis On A Street Corner
What does Toronto’s response to the refugee crisis actually look like? We follow asylum seekers at 129 Peter Street as they search for a place to spend the night.
Jesse Brown
Host & Publisher
Cherise Seucharan
Reporter, CANADALAND
Tristan Capacchione
Audio Editor & Technical Producer
Bruce Thorson
Senior Producer
Karyn Pugliese
Editor-in-Chief

What does Toronto’s response to the refugee crisis actually look like on the ground? 

Just across the street from the Canadaland office, a crisis unfolded: dozens of asylum seekers camping out as they were unable to get space in city shelters. Some had been there for weeks. 

After the federal government and the city both pledged that more support would be given to the asylum seekers, many were still there –  being helped by a tenuous system of volunteers, donated goods, religious outreach and good samaritans.


Join reporter Cherise Seucharan and Editor in Chief Karyn Pugliese as they
follow asylum seekers at 129 Peter Street as they search for a place to spend the night. 

 

Credits: Jesse Brown, Host & Publisher, Cherise Seucharan, Reporter, Tristan Capacchione (Audio Editor and Technical Producer), Bruce Thorson (Senior Producer), Annette Ejiofor (Managing Editor), Karyn Pugliese (Editor-in-Chief)

Further reading:

 

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TRANSCRIPT

Canadaland’s transcripts are edited to the best of our ability to ensure accuracy from audio to text. Please contact editor@canadaland.com should you have a correction. 

Intro:

(Canadaland theme plays)
Jesse Brown: The other week, there was a strange scene playing out just around the corner from our offices here in Toronto. ‘Bout four or five women were standing on a downtown street corner trying to inflate something that looked like a giant red balloon, but they were struggling with it.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: It says it does it by itself. Right?

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: I’ll help you. But it’s not necessary.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: It doesn’t sound like it. There’s two large openings. This is the craziest thing I’ve seen.

Jesse Brown: Our reporter Cherise Seucharan and our editor-in-chief, Karyn Pugliese, watched this scene unfold. They tell me it was actually a flimsy blow up mattress with a vodka of a vodka brand written across it in giant letters.

Karyn Pugliese: See, they’ve got them all?

Cherise Seucharan: Yeah.

Karyn Pugliese: They’re mattresses.

Cherise Seucharan: It says Smirnoff on them, which is hilarious.

Karyn Pugliese: Like the vodka?

Cherise Seucharan: Yeah.

(Karyn laughed)

Jesse Brown: The women were referring to an instruction sheet and then a YouTube video. But they still seemed confused.

Cherise Seucharan: -instructions.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: It just gave us this paper here and didn’t say a lot.

Cherise Seucharan: It’s really not descriptive.  

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: No, it isn’t. So- yeah

Cherise Seucharan: It’s worse than Ikea

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, this is definitely worse than Ikea. (All laughing)

Jesse Brown: Frustrated, one of them decides to try something different. She holds the deflated mattress open over her head and tries to fill it up by running down the busy sidewalk and waving it from side to side.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Yeah. Yeah, look! It is working. It’s working. (laughing) It’s working, guys. It’s working.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: She got it. She got it. She got.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: It’s working.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Okay, I need more. But it’s coming. But I have to keep going from side to side to keep filling it. Yeah.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Okay.

(All laughing)

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Is it good? It’s good. Right?

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: There you go. There you go. We figured it out.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Okay. Okay, Let’s do some more.

Jesse Brown: This actually works success. But then when another woman tries to sit on the mattress, it collapses in the middle and she rolls to the ground. There are ten more to go. And on the sidewalk outside of 129 Peters Street. Those ten flimsy air mattresses were what a group of people were depending on for a decent night’s sleep.

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: They were donated to us, so we just got as many as we could so that they’re not on the floor.

Karyn Pugliese: So are you volunteers?

Inflatable Mattress Fillers: Yeah, we’re just doing it.

Jesse Brown: The scene that I’m painting for you, the sad half inflated mattress people on the sidewalk waiting to sleep on the streets. The job not getting done well enough on one mattress when there’s ten more mattresses, the people waiting to sleep on those mattresses are refugees. And the scene that played out is a symbol of a much bigger story. It’s a symbol of Canada’s attempts to address an alarming influx of refugees. 

The whole thing appears to be a chaos of donations, volunteer efforts, politicians, religious groups and a meager pot of government funding. Here’s what happened. Up until June, Toronto’s shelter system would accept asylum seekers in addition to unhoused Canadians. But the number of refugees who are making use of the shelter system has been exploding.

Asylum Seeker Clip: Over the past 20 months. The number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system has multiplied by more than 500% from a low of about 530 people per night in September 2021 to over 2800in May 2023. We are asking the Federal Government to provide Toronto with the same financial considerations as other municipalities such as Peel and Niagara, where it funds and operates refugees and asylum seekers specific hotels.

Jesse Brown: And this past June, the city said, That’s enough. We can’t do this anymore. The deputy mayor decided that they would no longer accept asylum seekers in many Toronto city shelters. The hope was that by putting these people out onto the streets, they would increase the pressure on the federal government. And so a crowd of refugees, mostly from Africa, ended up sleeping outside the shelter office at a busy intersection night after night. A couple of churches stepped in to provide a place to sleep, but soon those too, began to overflow. 

And yet the strategy worked. The federal government announced $212 million would be going towards helping asylum seekers. And this was followed by new Mayor Olivia Chow, opening up 250 new shelter spaces. And yet the crowd outside of 129 Peters Street remained. Many did not know where to go, who to call, or who to trust in the chaos. And all that some of them had to sleep on were those randomly donated Smirnoff mattresses assembled on the side of the street by some well-meaning volunteers with the aid of a YouTube video. Our team spent the day and night with those asylum seekers trying to understand what it is like for them to navigate such a broken system. And to try to just find a place to sleep for the night. We’re going to join them there. Wait for it.

(Patron sting plays)

This episode is brought to you by Mikaela Stang, Rebecca O’Brien, Yvonne Mensah, Mary La Rose, Nadine Benny, Stephen Muirhead, Katherine Davidson and Ellen.

Patron Supporter Ellen Roseman: Hi there. It’s Ellen Roseman, a long time print journalist in Toronto with The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. I have supported Canadaland probably since the very beginning because I like what you do in trying to increase people’s ability to understand what the media are saying and doing. So happy anniversary Canadaland. I hope you continue for another ten great years.

Part one:
(Parking lot ambient noises, traffic, background chatter)

Mahmud: My name is Mahmud.

Cherise Seucharan: And what’s your name? 

Muhammad: Muhammad.

Cherise Seucharan: We’re talking to two friends from Sudan. They’re the first people we’ve met today that didn’t run away from her microphones. And they’re both carrying small backpacks like a lot of the people here at the encampment. Karyn and I have been curious about what people might be carrying with them from home.

Karyn Pugliese: I’m just curious, what have you guys got in your bags? Is that stuff that you brought with you or did somebody give you stuff, or?

Muhammad: No, we buy it. You bought it? Yeah. When we go out from forest, nothing new, it’s all the t-shirts.

Cherise Seucharan: Mahmud, the taller one of the pair, opens his jacket to show us a lime green shirt that says Panama with a picture of a toucan. It’s like one of those shirts you buy from a tourist shop while you’re on vacation. 

You bought that in Panama?

Muhammad: No. This is the organization the UN give us the. 

Karyn Pugliese: The UN gave it to you?

Muhammad: Give me.

Mahmud: Yes. In Panama Forest.

Cherise Seucharan: So maybe not a vacation then. What was happening in the forest? Where is this?

Muhammad: It’s in between Panama and Colombia.

Cherise Seucharan: Okay.

Muhammad: It’s like when you get to Panama, you have to get this cross, this forest face. Some people go in one week, two weeks, some people two three-day three, as your body can do. Bad situation.

Cherise Seucharan: It’s bad in the middle of the forest. How many people were there?

Mahmud: It’s like thousands. 

Muhammad: More. Venezuela, Turkey, Sudan, Africa. More people, Afghanistan. 

Cherise Seucharan: In the forest, Wow.

Mahmud: For me, I live in the forest. Four days, three nights.

Karyn Pugliese: What did you eat?

Mahmud: Sometime rescued sometimes tuna.

Muhammad: It’s like fasting. It’s like fasting.

Cherise Seucharan: This forest he’s talking about. I’ve actually heard of it before. It’s a border crossing between Colombia and Panama called the Darién Gap. And it goes over mountains, swamps, valleys. It’s notorious for being pretty dangerous.

Darien Gap Clip: “The next day, minds were racing with one question: will we make it out of here? There were foreboding reminders of those who did not.”

“They reported losing dozens of people washed away in the currents.”

“A group of 5 to 7 mafias came to us. They pointed a gun towards us and took away our bags and everything. They left nothing for us. They even took away our food.”

Cherise Seucharan: Last year, hundreds of thousands of migrants actually attempted that crossing, trying to get from places all over the world into North America. And that number is increasing. But how did they get to the Darién gap from Sudan?

How many countries did it take you to get here?

Mahmud: 11 country. We start from Sudan. Sudan to Egypt. And after go to Egypt, they go to Turkish. Turkish. Ecuador, Ecuador. Colombia. Colombia. Panama. Panama, uh (Arabic is spoken).

Muhammad: Forest.

Mahmud: During forest. After Panama, Costa Rica. Costa Rica, Nicaragua. And Nicaragua, Honduras. Guatemala, Mexico, America, Canada.

Cherise Seucharan: How did you get here from America?

Mahmud: We get to by a forest. Walk. Work?

Muhammad: Walk. Yeah, walk.

Cherise Seucharan: Where?

Muhammad: It’s like I got this. Montreal.

Cherise Seucharan: Was this the Roxham Road?

Muhammad: No, not Roxham roads. I’m not sure actually. But we get a point in our maps and go right.

Mahmud: Yeah.

Muhammad: You know. Wow.

Cherise Seucharan: Since the safe third Country agreement was expanded to close land crossings like Roxham Road, immigration experts have said that asylum seekers are going to try to find hidden more dangerous paths across the Canada-U.S. border. From the sounds of it, Mahmoud is one of those people.

How did you meet?

Muhammad: Like Scarborough Station.

Cherise Seucharan: Scarborough Station?

Muhammad: Yeah. Train station.

Cherise Seucharan: How did. How did. What connected you?

Muhammad: We are Sudanese. We know each other because I can look you. I know it’s yours, yeah.

Mahmud: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I am only, no- nobody’s Sudanese. Only me and him. Yes.

Cherise Seucharan: There must be some Sudanese magic joining these two because they actually don’t look alike at all. Mohammed is shorter and looks to be of African descent, and Mahmoud is a bit taller and looks like he’s of Middle Eastern descent. Mahmoud explained that he’d spent a few nights in the shelters in Toronto, but space was hard to come by and the substance use going on there made him feel like they weren’t really meant to support refugees.

I heard some people were taken to a church that some people in the community stepped in. There’s a church that they are staying at. Did you hear about the church?

Muhammad: Some organization is like, give us over, can come and stay two days, three days, but it’s not solution.

Cherise Seucharan: Where have you been sleeping?

Mahmud: Yeah. He’s live in the park and the station in the metro. Sometimes I sleep near the mosque. Sometimes I sleep in near the bank for subway, for, you know, subway near this shop slip there any corner safety night. But if you don’t see somebody from homless like that. I’m sleeping. I put it like that. Sleep is easy. No problem. But. Not good for this country. This is Canada. You know, the Canada speak country, any good country.

Cherise Seucharan: But Mahmoud and Mohammed are leaving. They want to go find food they can eat. And they say they’re going to find a place to sleep for the night. Maybe in a park somewhere. Are you. Are you going somewhere right now?

Muhammad: I will go to try and get some food. Halal food. I’m Muslim. I can’t eat this food.

Cherise Seucharan: Come back. So are you going to come back?

Muhammad: Yeah.

Cherise Seucharan: Okay. We’ll be here.

Cherise Seucharan: Walk around the camp hoping to talk to other people and meet a guy named Peter from Kenya. He’s got a boombox. Peter doesn’t want to answer our questions. What he does want to do is dance.

(Reggae boombox music plays)

Karyn Pugliese: By the way, that was fun dancing.

Cherise Seucharan: That was fun. Like he had a vibe.

Karyn Pugliese: Yeah. It’s like we learned how to reggae.

Cherise Seucharan: We learnt how to reggae dance. You clearly have more of a beat than I do, though. 

(Reggae boombox music ends)

And though he’s open to dancing, Peter is still not willing to talk. Like most of the people we’re meeting here. We’re getting bits and pieces of people’s life stories before they stop themselves and ask if we’re recording. And a lot of them aren’t nearly as jovial as Peter is.

Karyn Pugliese: It’s been kind of hard to get other people to talk to us.

Cherise Seucharan: To me, the most surprising thing was two women we talked to who both said they’d been there for a month. I think one was from Uganda and one was from Cameroon.

Karyn Pugliese: Yeah. And I mean, the woman who was talking to us, I wish she would have gone on the mic like she was clearly really pissed off. She kept saying, Please don’t take my picture. And we’re saying, no, we don’t have cameras. Like we’re not taking your picture. And she was kind of hiding her face because she was she seemed to be really worried about it. 

She was so upset, like she was saying, like we asked her, where do you sleep? And she points and she goes right over there. Right over there. And it’s just like where there’s these like, bags and everything up against the wall. What else did she say when you were talking to her?

Cherise Seucharan: I think to me, it was just like the frustration. Like I do feel like she wanted to talk to us, but she was also like preventing herself from doing so. Every once in a while she would kind of like turn towards us and say something like. Like, no one’s helping us. I’ve been here for a month, I’ve been waiting, and I think our friend was like, nodding and being like, yeah, same thing.

While talking to Karyn. I look up and I notice a couple of new groups have arrived in the encampment. One is giving out water bottles and blankets; good Samaritans. I also recognize local MP Kevin Vuong in the crowd. He’s flanked by a few people carrying clipboards and they seem to be going around asking people questions. I see you signing people up on clipboards. What is that? What are doing?

MP Kevin Vuong: So that’s. That’s getting their information for us to be able to advocate on their behalf with the Department of Immigration. That on the front page, it asks for what we need. It takes a little bit of time for each individual because we have to explain kind of the entire process. They want to be able to get their their refugee status and work permit to be able to work in this country. And so we are helping them to to advocate and get them information status updates on that.

Cherise Seucharan: And how long would it take to get a work permit at this point?

MP Kevin Vuong: Right now, the timeline for work permits for refugees is 3 to 4 months. It is my hope that both because of my work with- conversation with the minister and the departmental contact that he’s provided me and my office, that we’re able to speed that up and get that much quicker if you’re.

Cherise Seucharan: Helping certain folks being sped up. Is that fair for other folks?

MP Kevin Vuong: Well, I’m here for the people at 129 Peter Street and any anyone, everyone new people arriving every day. So I’m going to continue to be here every day. I think we have to be realistic here. Obviously, I would love to go around across the city, find everyone who is in need of help, get their information and do that. But my team and I can only do so much.

Cherise Seucharan: MPs like Vuong don’t oversee shelters, so one of the things that they can do is advocate for individuals on things such as work permits, but I’m left wondering how many folks there are that might not actually know Vuong’s team is here. It’s 10:00 now and getting darker out. A car pulls up with more supplies and a couple new people. We’re seeing a car pull up,  tt’s like a white car. And they seem to be taking bottles of water and other kinds of drinks out. Hi, I’m so sorry. My name is Cherise. We’re journalists. We’re from a podcast called Canadaland.

Volunteer: Okay.

Kizito Musabimana: And that’s you I spoke to earlier. I just was too busy.

Cherise Seucharan: Oh, okay. That’s great. I’m great. Good to meet you. Good to meet you.

Cherise Seucharan: That’s Kizito Musabimana from the Rwandan Canadian Healing Centre. He’s been helping organize these church shelters. And we had spoken on the phone earlier that day, but our conversation is cut short by a few volunteers needing his help to unload their cars. So I start talking to one of them. She says she’s not affiliated with any group, but has been cooking meals at home and bringing them here most evenings. Tonight it’s some sort of rice dish with a red sauce.

 

Volunteer: I’m just helping. I’m here on behalf of my organization. I’m just doing this. Yeah. Like I cook every day. But there’s a lot.

Cherise Seucharan: Of that going on. At 129 Peters Street, random individuals and groups showing up with food, water, blankets, air mattresses. Suddenly, a big yellow school bus pulls up on the curb. I’m guessing this is the bus that takes folks to the church shelter north of the city, but no one’s really making a move to get on the bus. Kizito comes over. This time, he’s holding a clipboard and looking stressed. He tells me the asylum seekers don’t want to get on. They don’t want to go to the church shelter at all because someone’s been telling them not to go.

Part 2:
(Ad break music plays)

Cherise Seucharan: So are you trying to get people on the bus now? Is that what’s up?

Kizito Musabimana: Yeah. So we’re having an issue right with- some of the people, because we have some characters that come here and they’re talking to them about staying here on the street. That’s how they’re going to get help. Unfortunately, some of them are listening to that. Of course, these people have been traumatized and it’s just ridiculous.

Cherise Seucharan: Kizito explains. There are people spreading what he calls rumors about how asylum seekers will give up their place in line for housing if they go to the church shelters. There are also rumors that they’re going to be forced to convert to Christianity. He’s frustrated because it’s not just the rumors. It’s everything going on this week.

Kizito Musabimana: We have other groups that are that are helping a lot of the support we are getting to maintain the church operation. It’s not just black communities. Of course, most of it is black community. We are getting donations every day. So honestly, I think the support is coming from everybody. The frustration might be heavier on us. And of course, the fact that we see Africans here, like there is probably a couple of people that are not African, but everybody else is African.

Cherise Seucharan: I was curious about that. Why exactly is everyone here African and why aren’t there asylum seekers from other places like Ukraine?

Kizito Musabimana: It’s a lot of different things. You know, it’s the fact that our community is not well equipped. There is not enough resources for our community to kind of spread around. Like if you look at, for example, the Ethiopian community, as I was just showing you, which is well positioned, they can come as individuals and take their people. The Ugandans did their best, but the numbers are just heavy. 

So that’s how you have the rest of the people sleeping on the streets. So systemically, definitely racism on an individual level, I wouldn’t say so, but systemically, definitely there is some racism because if we can do what we’ve done for the Ukrainians and the Syrians and, you know, the Afghans, but yet our people are here the.

Cherise Seucharan: Same week that happened, the press conference, I think, was when they made the Ukrainians that sort of PR.

Kizito Musabimana: Oh, yeah, they express they express visa entry. I personally just want them to do for us as they are doing for everybody. That’s that’s what I want to see. I don’t think this government has done that, especially the city of Toronto, but of course the federal government and of course we are happy with the new mayor and the fact that she seems to be very encouraged and encouraging and she’s taking action from day one. So we are continuing and we’re going to continue to push that. They they bring in more programs, wrap around $97 million is not going to do it. $160 million is not going to do it. We need more than that.

Cherise Seucharan: Kizito and the other volunteers start milling around the crowd, trying to convince some of the asylum seekers that they will be safe at the church shelter. The Yellow bus is still empty. I got to say, though, it’s like great that community is stepping up but crazy that like a lot of these folks, day to day food and shelter is being just, kind of haphazardly given by the community instead of actually being organized by the government, but-

Karyn Pugliese: Yeah, yeah. Like the two guys who spoke to like they need halal food and we’re just like, okay, how are you going to get that? And they’re like, Well, you know, if we go out like even if you don’t have money, somebody knows, they understand, they give it to you, but like to be dependent on that.

Cherise Seucharan: Yeah, it must feel really strange.

Karyn Pugliese: It must feel like horrible.

Cherise Seucharan: Yeah.

Karyn Pugliese: Horrible. Like nobody wants to be, like, dependent. Like-. 

Cherise Seucharan: Yeah, exactly.

Karyn Pugliese: So what I’m curious about, based on what we heard earlier, is if anybody’s like if some people are going to stay or if people are actually going to get on the bus.

Cherise Seucharan: Kizito and his crew managed to convince about 20 people to come to the church, their space on the bus for me and Karyn. So we hop along for the ride. For now. It’s now about 11:30 p.m. and we’re heading north. Is rough. Because he told another organizer or standing up at the front of the bus giving instructions and clarifying that they are not trying to convert people. Some things to.

Volunteer: Some things to consider because we heard these questions. Anyone who is there can practice any faith. So there’s not going to be a- 

Kizito Musabimana: Bias. 

Volunteer: A forcing to any particular religion if folks are non-religious. I just wanted to. Let folks know that.

Cherise Seucharan: The mood is good, all things considered. We’re sitting next to a young man named John. He was watching us dance earlier.

John: Shakira.

Karyn Pugliese: Shakira, Shakira. Are we going to sing? Sing.

John: (Sings) Oh, baby. I got a love, baby. I tell you something. Oh baby. You’re the everything I. Uh  oh. (Vocalizing, then laughing) This is lot of fun. All right, good.
(Ambient bus noises, bouncing along a road, electronic beeping)

Volunteer: Yeah, that’s. So if I open the door, the bus make a lot of noise. I can’t open the door with that. 

John: Okay.
(Beeping stops)

Cherise Seucharan: Eventually John falls asleep like a lot of people on the bus. But not for long.

Volunteer: It’s midnight.

Karyn Pugliese: Hey, John. Are you tired?

John: I’m fine.

Karyn Pugliese: You’re fine?

John: Yeah.

Karyn Pugliese: Did you get a good sleep there?

John: Yeah. I’m going to sleep. Yeah.

Karyn Pugliese: What time do you have to get up in the morning?

John: I think maybe 8 or 9.

Karyn Pugliese: So you’re only going to get, like, a few hours of sleep. Are you going to get something to eat or just go to bed.

John: This night, I don’t think so, but if I see anything, I can still take. Yeah, that would be okay. Yeah. Shakira. Shakira.

Karyn Pugliese: Shakira. Shakira.

Cherise Seucharan: Shakira.

John: Yeah (chuckling).

Cherise Seucharan: We pull up to Dominion Church International, Toronto. And what looks like a block of warehouses on a dark stretch of road. Inside there’s a bright open room where about 30 to 40 asylum seekers are lounging on a hodgepodge of chairs and bedding. Lots of them were using chairs pushed together to form a sort of makeshift bed while others were sleeping on cots or bags on the floor. We meet Pastor Eddie, who is running things around here. He looks tired. More cars pull up, dropping off more asylum seekers.

(Church ambient sounds, low chatter, bustling around as people get settled)

Pastor Eddie: You have the beds now?

Church worker: No, they haven’t told us anything. They’ve just dropped in another three people now.

Pastor Eddie: Oh, they were dropping off people?

Church worker: Yes.

Pastor Eddie: Oh, that’s a funny joke. I thought they were bringing supplies.

Volunteer: No.

Pastor Eddie: Nice.

Cherise Seucharan: I asked Eddie if the church is getting any funding from the government to run this operation.

Pastor Eddie: Not- Not yet.

Cherise Seucharan: From the government, or anything?

Pastor Eddie: But we have been told that it will be coming, as to how it will be channeled. We are yet to learn of that.

Cherise Seucharan: Then Eddie says he has someone he wants us to talk to, a woman called Aunt Faith.

Pastor Eddie: You want me to yell out someone to call out someone?

Cherise Seucharan: Sure, if you know anyone.

Pastor Eddie: Okay. This lady, Aunt Faith.

Aunt Faith: Yes, please.

Pastor Eddie: Can you come for a second?

Aunt Faith: I’ve been here since Monday. And it has been a blessing being here. Because when I came to Canada, I didn’t know what where I would be. And we were all stranded. We didn’t know where to go because the shelters were full. There was no response to those who are coming in. And so the church opened up for us to come in. 

And so since we have been here, we have been looked after, we have been fed, we have been given food, we have been given drinks. We get breakfast, get lunch and get supper. And then they have provided us with beddings, clothes, all the necessities that we need. And so they have made us feel comfortable. They have showed us love. I am overwhelmed. You see people coming in of different walks of life and you are amazed.

Cherise Seucharan: Aunt Faith tells us she fled from Uganda.

Aunt Faith: I’m a human rights defender. That’s my work. I’m a social worker and I’m a human rights defender. So in my work in in one way or the other, I have robbed wrongly with the government. Yes. In my line of work. What?

Cherise Seucharan: She escaped her home country and first went to Ottawa.

Aunt Faith: Now, when I came in, I went to Ottawa. So, and I went to the capital city, I told them I needed to go to immigration. So when I went to immigration, someone was directing me. They told me, No, you need to go to a shelter. So when they took me, they took me to a male shelter and the male shelter couldn’t handle me. So they contacted a female shelter. Now, being new to Canada, I didn’t know my way around. The people who would see me would say: lady, you won’t survive in that shelter. 

So I kept on moving up and down the streets. So I think this lady was parked somewhere and she kept on looking at me, moving up and down. And I think she was concerned. So she asked me what was going on. And then I told her, I said, okay, I will take you in for two nights. I, I- that was overwhelming. And she has followed me up. And she I had cash. I didn’t know that I didn’t have a visa. My Visa card, Ugandan Visa card, couldn’t work here. She used her Visa card to make sure I get meals, to make sure that I move from Ottawa to here. Oh, it was it.

Cherise Seucharan:
Sounds overwhelming.

Aunt Faith
Yes. But I think I believe in God.

Cherise Seucharan: As crazy as that story is, it seems like kind strangers reaching out to support stranded refugees has been a bit of a theme tonight. We wanted to see where Aunt Faith was sleeping tonight. Can you take us on a little tour?

(Foot steps on linoleum floors)

Aunt Faith: So the males go the other side.

Cherise Seucharan: Okay.

Aunt Faith: Yeah, We have the kitchen and we have a microwave. Oh, you have a kitchen.

Cherise Seucharan: Okay.

Aunt Faith: We have a microwave here. We have another microwave we have inside there. So we warm our food stuffs in there. We wash our plates here. This is the kitchen. So we utilize the kitchen here and then the washrooms. This is for ladies. You can see.

Cherise Seucharan: Okay. Is there okay? Yeah. Yeah.

Aunt Faith: So we are comfortable. Yeah.

Cherise Seucharan: And you have a shower?

Aunt Faith: Yes, we have a shower. We have. We have soap. We have all the things that we have enough toilet paper and all that. So we are okay? Yeah.

Cherise Seucharan: It’s a big space.

Aunt Faith: Yeah, it is. It is. And they keep it clean.

Cherise Seucharan: This is bigger. Like the whole area is bigger than I thought it would be. Yeah. Because they were saying it’s a church, but it’s like a big.

Aunt Faith: Yeah, it is. This is. This is amazing. Amazing, amazing. Yeah, it is amazing.

Cherise Seucharan: Mmmhm, it is.

Aunt Faith: And I know they are expecting 30 more people and many other people have come and gone and everybody has been catered for.

Cherise Seucharan: Yeah. Have you talked to Pastor Eddie?

Aunt Faith: Yes. Yes. The first time I came, he welcomed us. He prayed for us. We were together and he comes that night, he didn’t go home. But then they all come. They work in shifts. So the members, I think some are staff members, so they come and work in shifts. So every day we have throughout the night we have two people who are there attending to us and they do not sleep. It’s amazing.

Cherise Seucharan: And faith shows us her bed. It’s a small mattress on the ground surrounded by the backs of 4 or 5 chairs, creating a kind of makeshift room in this huge church hall. And she’s grateful for it. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s also clear this is not a permanent solution. It can’t be. And as it reaches closer to 1:00 in the morning, most of the asylum seekers in the church are trying to go to sleep. Then the last car pulls up, carrying three more people in search of a bed. For tonight, Pastor Eddie lets them in. 

This church is just one aspect of a tenuous system of refugee support in Toronto, cobbled together by volunteer labour, donated food and supplies. People just giving what they can when they can. And like Aunt Faith said, it is amazing to see people come together like this. But this is also not a permanent solution. And experts say the new government funding is not going to be nearly enough to house the thousands more refugees that will be arriving in Canada by the end of the year. 

Just over a week after we spent the night at 129 Peter Street, the sidewalk outside the building was empty. I was told by a staffer that the asylum seekers had all found space at a church or a hotel shelter, but that more were arriving daily and staff were running out of spaces to send them to. So where will they go? There has to be a better system for refugee support in Toronto and in Canada, one that doesn’t depend on a pastor staying up all night, good samaritans cooking food, or a group of volunteers running down the street blowing up air mattresses. I remembered when Mahmud and Mahummed said from earlier how they didn’t see the point of going up to the church shelter because it would only be a few days before they were back on the street.

Muhammmad: It’s like it’s not a it’s not a solution. It’s like we need a real solution.

Cherise Seucharan: Right? Right. Do you feel safe?

Mahmud: Safe? Yeah. Canada.. Yeah, safe.. Very safe.

Cherise Seucharan: Okay. Even on the street, you feel safety?

Mahmud: Safety.

Muhammmad: This is good country. I like it. All right. But no, like I sleep outside.

Cherise Seucharan: Of course- of course not.

Mahmud: I like it with the safety, I know that.

Muhammad: But it’s better than war. Anywhere, is better than war.

Mahmud: Yeah. Yeah. It’s kind of good country.

Credits:
(Canadaland theme plays)

Jesse Brown: That is your Canadaland. We do original reporting. We do field reporting. We try to bring you things you can’t hear elsewhere. And if you value that work, please support it. We rely on listeners like you to pay for this journalism. As a supporter, you are going to get premium access to all of our shows. Without ads, You’ll get early releases, you’ll get bonus content you wouldn’t otherwise get. You’ll also get our exclusive newsletter discounts on our merch. We do live events. You’ll get invites and tickets to them. But look, more than any of that, you will become a part of the solution to Canada’s journalism crisis. You’ll be keeping our work free and accessible to everybody else. Come do it now. Join us. Click the link in your show notes or go to canadaland.com/join. 

You can email me, I’m at jesse@canadaland.com, I read them all. We’re on twitter @Canadaland. Our website is canadaland.com. Cherise Seucharan recorded today’s episode with additional reporting from our editor-in-chief, Karyn Pugliese. Our senior producer is Bruce Thorson. Additional production and editing from Tristan Capacchione. Our managing editor is Annette Ejiofor. I am your host, Jesse Brown. Our theme music is by Socalled syndication is handled by CFUV 101.9 FM in Victoria. Visit them online at CFUV.ca. You can listen to Canadaland ad free on Amazon Music, which is included with Prime.

 

 

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