Movement calling for regularization of asylum seekers fear being cast aside

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MONTREAL -- The movement to regularize essential workers seeking asylum is afraid it may be forgotten, two months after Quebec and Ottawa pledged to recognize the contribution of these "guardian angels."

A sit-in was staged overnight from Friday to Saturday in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office in Montreal and was to be followed by a protest in the early afternoon, while activists plan to step up the pressure to get both levels of government to walk their talk.

August will be "critical," according to the event organizer, Wilner Cayo.

The president of the Debout pour la dignité group fears that the arrival of the new cohort of patient attendants will overshadow the demands of those who responded at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, even though Quebec did not open its arms to them.

At the end of May, Premier Francois Legault announced that he asked then Minister of Immigration Simon Jolin-Barrette to look into the files of these health workers and check if it would be possible to qualify them as immigrants rather than refugees.

A few days later, Trudeau let it be known that his government was already at work to reward asylum seekers on the front line.

But those promises still haven't materialized.

"Governments can quickly change priorities, especially if public opinion changes and people move on," said Cayo. "We must step up our actions, get our message across as forcefully as possible."

The movement is now considering more draconian actions, such as a walkout or even a hunger strike, said Cayo, who does not intend to take the pressure off before a real regularization program is established.

Demonstrators are demanding that permanent residence not be granted exclusively to asylum seekers who came to the aid of the elderly in accommodation and long-term care centers, but to all those who hold jobs declared to be essential during the pandemic, whether in agricultural fields, warehouses, grocery stores or other sectors.

Legault's CAQ government drew up a list of essential sectors, and, Cayo argues, it should stick to it.

He is inviting Quebecers to "open their eyes and their hearts" and to recognize the contribution of these workers and welcome them for good in the province.

"These people are not asking for handouts. They did not come begging. They came to say, 'When you needed us, we responded. But now we need you,'" he said.

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