Activists demand 'guardian angels' fighting COVID-19 be given residency
If the refugee rights movement recognizes “a major change” in the tone of governments regarding the status of asylum seekers who work as “guardian angels” in Quebec health centres, activists are demanding a firm commitment.
Saturday morning, a few hundred were on hand to demonstrate by car, bicycle or on foot in Montreal.
Demonstrators again met in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office on Crémazie Blvd. East. It was a second demonstration for the group Standing for Dignity, which organized a caravan of cars on May 23.
The movement is calling for special status to be granted to asylum seekers who are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in residential and long-term care centres and in other establishments where there is a shortage of workers.
Following the first demonstration and a wave of support among the population, the Quebec Premier François Legault changed his tone in the face of those whom he himself called “guardian angels” who were taking care of elders. The premier has asked that each case be assessed in order to receive some of these people as immigrants and not as refugees.
For president and founder of the group Debout pour la dignité Wilner Cayo, this “case-by-case” idea is not acceptable since, according to him, it is “the same logic of exclusion” in the end.
“We are asking for an extraordinary measure to welcome all essential workers seeking asylum,” he said. “It is a question of humanity, equality, justice. These people are paying a heavy price, (and) they are contributing to this war effort.”
Cayo is a doctoral student in theology and reminded the government that these people are not a burden on Quebec society since they all work in essential positions that are extremely difficult to fill.
“They are a gift! We saw how they fought, how they give themselves and respond,” continued the organizer of the protest.
Parti Québécois interim leader Pascal Bérubé believes that we owe a debt of gratitude to these people from elsewhere who helped us during the pandemic. He said he supports the Legault government's approach to assessing files on a case-by-case basis and would not be ready to support an exceptional measure for all asylum seekers who have worked in essential services
“It is not automatic. I think the first step that has been taken is a step in the right direction because the cases are not all the same,” he said. “You have to be grateful and sensitive to these people and you gain from knowing them. This explains our presence here.”
The procession circulated in the streets bordering the federal riding of Papineau, represented by Justin Trudeau, to the sound of horns and slogans of solidarity.
There are no precise figures on the number of asylum seekers working in accommodation or care centres, but they are estimated at several hundreds, even a few thousand.
Aphrodite Salas, Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University
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