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Quebec asks Ottawa for $1B to cover rising costs of asylum seekers

Posted in Canada, Featured

Published on February 20, 2024 with No Comments

Education network approaching ‘breaking point,’ minister says The Quebec government is calling on Ottawa to reimburse $1 billion — the amount the province says it has spent to welcome a growing number of asylum seekers.

At a news conference Tuesday, Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette, Education Minister Bernard Drainville, Social Solidarity Minister Chantal Rouleau and Jean-François Roberge, minister of Canadian Relations, said the increase in new arrivals may soon become untenable for Quebec’s education network and social services.

The province says it spent $576.9 million in 2023 on social services to support migrants. It says that is on top of the $470 million it spent in 2021 and 2022.

As of Dec. 31, 55 per cent of asylum seekers currently residing in Canada — 160,651 people out of 289,047 — are in Quebec.

“This is completely unreasonable,” Fréchette said. “Our capacity to provide services to asylum seekers has limits.”

The province is asking the federal government to relocate asylum seekers more equitably throughout Canada and to slow the influx of asylum seekers entering the country by tightening Canadian visa policies.

It also wants Ottawa to close loopholes that it says would allow criminal groups to infiltrate Canada and to reimburse the province for all costs linked to welcoming asylum seekers from 2021 to 2023.
Roberge, who is the minister responsible for relations with the rest of the country, said the federal government’s “passive attitude” toward Quebec’s reception of asylum seekers “must absolutely end.”

Fréchette pointed to the four maritime provinces, which together received a total of 380 asylum seekers in 2023, compared to Quebec’s 65,000.

The amount Quebec says it has spent on last-resort financial assistance for asylum seekers between 2022 and 2023 went from $163 million to $370 million — a 127 per cent increase.

In January, Quebec said it recorded a spike in the number of requests for social assistance, which it attributed to the increase in asylum seekers.

Data from the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity shows that requests for social assistance made by asylum seekers increased by 27 per cent at the start of 2024 compared to the same period of the previous year.

In the past couple of years, requests for social assistance by asylum seekers have grown from 27,099 in October 2022 to 43,174 in October 2023, according to ministry data.
So far, discussions with Ottawa haven’t led to an agreement. The federal government transferred $100 million to Quebec three weeks ago to support a program to house migrants, but Fréchette said the injection is “clearly insufficient.”
Even if the federal government reimburses Quebec, the ministers say money wouldn’t solve the root of the problem.

Although Quebec is obligated to provide instruction to asylum seekers who are minors, the education minister says the province is reaching a “breaking point,” where it cannot rule out the possibility that educating them would be unfeasible.

“We are approaching a point where we will not be able to serve people who are already on the Quebec territory,” Drainville said. “What Quebec has done to educate these asylum-seeking children in recent years is exceptional, but now, it can’t continue like this.”

There are 1,200 French-language classes for newcomers in Quebec, which is the equivalent of 52 elementary schools, Drainville said. Montreal’s French school service centre has been receiving 80 new registrations per week.
At this rate, he says the province would need to open three to four new elementary schools by the end of the school year just to teach young asylum seekers French.

“The risk is that we will not be able to offer them the education they are entitled to,” Drainville told reporters. “We’re hoping something can be done to bring down the level, and we’re calling on the federal government to take its responsibilities.”


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