Statement: Urgent call to address the housing and humanitarian crisis affecting refugees | The Ontario Federation of Labour

Statement: Urgent call to address the housing and humanitarian crisis affecting refugees

Toronto is currently facing an unprecedented housing and humanitarian crisis, and the consequences have been severe for refugees seeking asylum in the city. While the federal and provincial governments have refused to provide any meaningful relief whatsoever, at the same time as sitting on resources that could alleviate the situation, the City of Toronto has struggled to accommodate refugees, directing them to federal programs that fail to meet their immediate needs.

The impact on refugees, primarily from African countries, has been devastating. Many have been left unhoused and forced to survive in encampments in downtown Toronto since June 1.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) strongly condemns the deplorable deterioration of the housing situation in Toronto, which is the result of decades of underfunding and neglect by all levels of government. We unite in solidarity with community organizations and applaud Black-led community groups for urging the government to provide funding and support for refugees and asylum seekers. This has underscored the critical significance of community and grassroots organizations that step forward to fill the void created by the government’s failure to act.

The plight of these refugees serves as a powerful symbol of the government’s deeply shameful failure to uphold the principles of human rights and social justice they claim to support. The encampments lay bare the systemic neglect and indifference shown towards the most vulnerable members of our society.

The OFL firmly rejects the notion that this is merely a “refugee crisis” and affirms that it is, in fact, a severe housing crisis and a grave humanitarian crisis–both of them a long time in the making. We urgently call on all levels of government to implement long-term solutions for the housing and humanitarian crises spanning this country. Proper funding and resources must be allocated to community groups that unwaveringly support our most marginalized communities, and the government must take the lead in implementing robust affordable housing programs in every region of the country.

This situation reminds us that there is still much work to be done in eradicating the ongoing discrimination faced by the most vulnerable communities, especially Black and Brown asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants. It is crucial to confront the reality that the government’s inaction is deeply rooted in anti-Black racism, and not to ignore Canada’s dark history of injustices targeting Black refugees and immigrants. The OFL is firmly committed to holding the government accountable for its past actions, including discriminatory immigration strategies and institutional racism experienced by Ethiopian and Somali refugees, among many other groups, and will speak out against the repetition of these same mistakes.

The OFL commends community organizations, particularly Black-led groups, that have urgently come together to pressure the government into taking action. Their resilience and advocacy have been instrumental in highlighting the urgency of this crisis.

In solidarity with community groups, we join the call for action for the following demands:

The groups are calling on the City of Toronto to:

  • Receive refugee claimants arriving in Toronto;
  • Provide emergency shelter in Toronto with support to transition to long-term housing; and
  • Provide support services.

They are calling on the federal and provincial governments to:

  • Ensure refugee claimants at Toronto Pearson Airport and other international airports are received appropriately;
  • Resource municipalities to provide emergency shelter in Toronto with support to transition to long-term housing;
  • Resource community-based organizations to provide shelter and housing, and support services.