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The number of Mexican asylum seekers in Canada has increased dramatically

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MONTREAL — Canada has seen a spike in the number of Mexicans seeking asylum here this year, with the vast majority of them coming to Montreal. They say they are fleeing Mexico in search of jobs and safety, but statistics show most applicants from the country are rejected.

Ricardo Santos, 28, arrived at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport on Oct. 4. He says that although he did not know much about Canada, there was a direct flight to Montreal from Mexico City.

“I left because there is no work and there is a lot of violence,” Santos said in a recent interview outside a downtown YMCA, where he was staying while his refugee application was processed. “Mexico is becoming a more dangerous country.”

From January to mid-October, 6,501 of the 7,968 Mexican asylum seekers arriving in Canada by air landed in Montreal, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. That’s almost six times as many as arrived at the airport with the second largest number of Mexican refugee claimants — Toronto Pearson Airport — which recorded 1,108 over the same period. In 2021, a total of 1,640 Mexican asylum seekers arrived in Canada by air.

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“I hope to find work,” Santos said. “Hopefully, everything goes well with the paperwork so I can start working as soon as possible. Montreal is much calmer than Mexico. There seems to be more tranquillity, and it seems safer, too.” He said it is easier as an asylum seeker to enter Canada than in the United States.

Carrefour Solidarité Anjou, a group that provides assistance to newcomers in Montreal, said that out of 1,000 households using its services, about 50 per cent are Mexican asylum seekers.

“Lately, we have received a large number of asylum seekers coming from Mexico, especially since July,” Hayet Mohamed, who oversees the centre’s French language courses, said during a recent interview.

Mohamed said that many Mexican asylum seekers with whom she has spoken over the last few months said they chose Montreal because it is easy to travel to Mexico. As well, Mexicans don’t need a visa to travel to Canada since the requirement was lifted in December 2016 by the federal government.

Amparo Duarte, who also works at Carrefour Solidarité Anjou, said many Mexican immigrants talked about the ease of the refugee application process as another reason for choosing Canada.

“According to what people have told me, it is easy to enter the country, and the claims process is fast, and it is the government of Quebec that facilitates this process,” Duarte said during a recent interview. She said the provincial government has made accessing social assistance simple, “and that provides asylum seekers assurance that they will receive some financial relief.”

The Quebec government’s website says that asylum seekers who arrive in the province can apply for last-resort financial assistance if they are experiencing financial difficulties. The purpose of the assistance is to provide immigrants with money for the time it takes to integrate them into the job market after they learn French.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada says that between January and June, 2,747 claims from Mexican asylum seekers were referred to its refugee protection division. In 2021, the board received 3,321 claims for the whole year.

“The reason for their arrival is practically the same for all, so if you ask them the question and talk to them, it is mainly insecurity in the country. We are talking about violence and insecurity and especially the inability to find work. People are fleeing poverty,” Mohamed said.

Human Rights Watch says violence in Mexico — including torture, enforced disappearances, abuses against migrants, extrajudicial killings, gender-based violence, and attacks on independent journalists — is rampant.

“The criminal justice system routinely fails to provide justice to victims of violent crimes and human rights violations,” the human rights group said in its report on that country in 2022.”

Mohamed and Duarte said that most of the Mexican immigrants who request their services are families.

Francisco Varela Hernandez, 24, is also staying at the same downtown Montreal YMCA as Santos after arriving in the city on Oct. 10. He said he left his home country because of the violence.

“In Mexico, I lived through a few violent encounters, and so I decided to leave. I felt like Montreal was a good option since it has a good economy and also because this city is one of the cheaper ones in Canada for certain things, like housing,” Varela Hernandez said.

However, Mohamed said that many of the asylum seekers who go to the centre are in a precarious situation because they often have a hard time finding housing and becoming financially stable.

Once asylum seekers apply for refugee protection in Canada, they can seek a work permit — but they may not be able to stay long. Canada’s refugee board says the majority of asylum seekers from Mexico do not meet the definition of refugee as defined by the United Nations, which is the definition used by Canada. In order to be granted refugee status, an applicant must convince the country’s refugee board that they are in need of protection.

Under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a person in need of protection is a person who would be subjected personally to a danger of torture, a risk to their life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if they were returned to their home country.

Canada’s refugee board says that out of the 2,747 refugee claims they received from January to June of this year, 637 were accepted and 850 were refused.The remaining claims were either abandoned, withdrawn or are awaiting a decision.

“Each week, some will tell me that their claim was denied, and others share that they have been accepted. It all depends on their stories and the proof that they can provide,” Duarte said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Marisela Amador, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 benefits helped economy rebound, but post-payment verification lacking: AG

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Canada’s auditor general says COVID-19 benefits were delivered quickly and helped mitigate economic suffering, however, the federal government hasn’t done enough to recover overpayments.

In a new report looking into the federal government’s delivery of pandemic benefits, Karen Hogan said the programs provided relief to workers and employers affected by the pandemic and helped the economy rebound.

At the same time, the auditor general says the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada have not followed up by verifying payments.

Hogan estimates $4.6 billion was paid to people who were not eligible, while another $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and businesses should be further investigated.

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“I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” Hogan said in a news release.

The audit found that efforts to recover overpayments have been limited, with the Canada Revenue Agency collecting $2.3 billion through voluntary repayments.

Pre-payment controls were also lacking, though the report said the federal government made some changes to those controls for individual benefits.

However, the CRA made few changes to improve prepayment controls for businesses to mitigate risks of overpayment.

Hogan also flagged that there was a lack of sufficient data to assess the effectiveness of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Although the subsidy did go to businesses in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, the report said the effect of the subsidy on business resilience is unclear because the agency collected limited data from businesses.

The auditor general has made a set of recommendations to the government to improve the collection of overpayments and to fix data gaps relating to businesses.

Government organizations reviewed in the audit say they have accepted the recommendations, though only partially accepted a recommendation related to recuperating overpayments.

The federal government said it would prioritize which to pursue by weighing the resources necessary with the amount owed.

“It would not be cost effective nor in keeping with international and industry best practices to pursue 100 per cent of all potentially ineligible claims,” the response said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

The Trudeau government is pledging to spend $15 million to remove mines in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the funding is meant to make the country safer after Russia has laid hundreds of the indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch says Ukrainian forces have also been laying anti-tank mines across the country.

Joly made the announcement on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines in most countries.

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Ottawa has so far provided Canadian-made bomb suits to help protect Ukrainian deminers and has plans to help fund remote-control systems to clear large areas such as farmlands.

Last month, Canada unveiled funding to remove both landmines and cluster bombs from parts of Southeast Asia that remain inaccessible decades after conflicts like the Vietnam War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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B.C.’s Julia Levy is Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar

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British Columbia’s newest Rhodes Scholar will pursue a master’s degree in computational chemistry, but she says it’s also an “incredible opportunity” as a trans woman to give back to her community.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy said she was “blown away” when she learned she was among 11 Canadians selected for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious such awards.

Levy, 24, will head to Oxford University in England next October for the fully funded scholarship, a prize she said carries a special meaning because she is the country’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar.

“I feel I am very, very proud being the first trans woman in Canada (to become a Rhodes Scholar),” said Levy, who made the transition from he to she three years ago.

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While the transition was a tough journey, Levy said she is aware of the many advantages she’s had.

“I think it’s really interesting to note that I am privileged in literally every other way, like my parents being supportive of my transition. I have always had financial stability and I grew up in a good part of Vancouver … maybe that’s the advantages that you need to equal out the trans part of it,” said Levy.

Levy, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a chemistry major and a minor in visual arts, described the scholarship as an “incredible opportunity and a gift,” equipping her with more knowledge and power to give back to the trans community.

“I feel my experiences of being trans and the ways that I have had to navigate the world being trans … has given me a lot of empathy for people in crisis and people who have difficulties in their lives,” said Levy.

“I know what it is to be at the bottom in some ways and my interest in harm reduction and trans care really all comes from that place of knowing what it’s like and wanting to reach out and help out where that’s possible.”

Levy is also a scientist, artist, activist, programmer, friend and daughter, she said.

“There are many parts of me that are equally important to who I am.”

University of Victoria chemistry professor Jeremy Wulff supervised Levy and said she was “destined for greatness,” bringing insights to projects that led to their success.

“I’m always excited when my students are recognized with awards and fellowships, but the Rhodes award is at a whole other level,” he said. “Julia is in excellent company amongst this group, and it’s absolutely where she belongs.”

Levy said magic can happen when you mix computation with chemistry.

In her second year at the University of Victoria, she found some classmates were struggling to picture molecules in their heads while doing peer teaching.

To help them visualize complex molecules, Levy created an augmented-reality app.

The app is a QR code in the workbook and allows the learner to see the molecule on their phone in three dimensions.

“You can work it with your phone and spin it around and zoom in and out,” said Levy.

She also worked as a technician with the university’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, a drop-in service where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis.

Levy said the experience used her chemistry skills in a “practical and socially active way” to help more people.

“It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” said Levy.

Levy, who was travelling in Germany during the interview, said she looks forward to being surrounded by the Rhodes community and “being challenged and pushed to new heights.”

“I hope I bring what makes me unique to Oxford, and that I am able to find a group of people, both personally and professionally, that celebrate that uniqueness,” said Levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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