Asylum seekers on COVID-19 front lines
MONTREAL • Some of the of asylum seekers who have come to Canada in recent years have found the path to a new life has taken them straight to the front lines of Quebec’s COVID-19 crisis, where hundreds are believed to be working in hard-hit long-term care homes.
Ze Benedicte Carole, an asylum seeker from Cameroon, is recovering at home after being infected with COVID-19. She was working as a volunteer at a long-term care home in Montreal’s west end.
The 34-year-old, who arrived in Canada four years ago as a temporary foreign worker, said she started looking for a way to help her adopted country after being laid off from her job in food services.
When Premier François Legault called for more people to sign up to become “guardian angels,” as he has repeatedly called those working in health and longterm care homes, she volunteered.
“My dream has always been to work in a (long-term care home) to help people who are in trouble, and to feel important in society,” she said.
Ze Benedicte said she was assigned to what was supposed to be a “cold” zone of a care home, where she helped with tasks such as cleaning. But soon after, residents in her area were found to be carrying the virus.
Three days later she started experiencing headaches, fevers and muscle pain, despite having worn a mask, gloves, gowns and visors.
She had difficulty getting tested because she didn’t have a medicare card.
“When we die at the front lines, we’re called guardian angels,” she said. “But when we need to be treated on equal footing, we’re not guardian angels. We’re nobody, we’re invisible.”
Ruth Pierre-paul, who advocates on behalf of Montreal’s Haitian community, says hundreds of those who crossed the border irregularly have sought out jobs in long-term care homes as a quick way to enter the workforce.
She and other advocates are calling on the Quebec and federal governments to grant permanent residence to the many asylum seekers who are working in essential services as a recognition of their work during the pandemic.
“These people are living a double stress: they have to work and are on the front lines of a battle that could put them in the grave, with a status that gives them no benefits and makes them more vulnerable,” Pierrepaul said.
Last week, independent legislature member Catherine Fournier tabled a motion to recognize the contribution of “hundreds of asylum seekers, mostly of Haitian origin,” working in long-term care homes, and to ask Ottawa to “quickly regularize their status, in order to recognize the work accomplished during the current health crisis.”
The motion was rejected by Legault’s party, with the premier later appearing to suggest it could encourage more asylum seekers to cross the border.