Asy­lum seek­ers on COVID-19 front lines


Calgary Herald - - CANADA -

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.

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