‘He lost his life on Canadian soil’: Community groups call for change in welcoming asylum seekers

“We don't have enough resources,” says Frantz Andre part of a Montreal group helping undocumented individuals. He's calling on the province to do more to help asylum seekers, following the death of 44-year-old Fritznel Richard. Felisha Adam reports.

Community groups are calling for a change in the way Canada and the Quebec government are welcoming asylum seekers, this after the death of Fritznel Richard, a 44-year-old man who died while attempting to cross the US border in hopes of reuniting with his family in December.

“We need the system to be aware that it’s at some point dysfunctional, and we have to work on it to make sure that something like that never happen again,” says Frederic Boisrond a sociologist. His family immigrating from Haiti in the 60s, for Richard he says he wanted to humanize him, deciding to pay partial for the funeral held on January 22.

“He had nobody, nobody who knew him who could take care of that,” Boisrond says.

“Unfortunately, he came here to get a new life he lost his life on Canadian soil,” says Frantz André – Spokesperson and a coordinator, at Comité d’action des Personnes Sans Statuts, a Montreal group that helps undocumented individuals.

According to André, Richard and his family left Haiti during political unrest in the country, fleeing to Brazil first, then moving North to the United States, Richard hoped to settle and receive asylum in Canada, so while his wife stayed with family in the United States, he came to Canada hoping it would prove more welcoming.

“Mr. Richard, decided to stay here, in hope of getting his work permit which unfortunately he didn’t get,” says André, Richard hoped to work and send money to his wife and 11-year-old child.

After financial hardship, and the struggle to obtain a work permit, he decided to got back to the states to reunite with his family. Attempting to cross an unofficial border south of Montreal near Roxham Road. Richard, unsuccessful, unfortunately died of Hypothermia.

André says with not enough support by the Canadian government to process work permits quicker for asylum seekers, the lack of affordable housing in the province, and a push away from immigration by the Legault government, many in situations like Richards do not feel welcomed.

“We have to stop the rhetoric that these people are not welcome here. We created a climate with Mr. Legaut, and Mr. Boulet where they are not feeling welcome anymore,” insisted André “let’s stop the rhetoric, let’s make them feel welcome. Then give them the work permit as soon as possible. Find ways where we can get the social housing, where it’s affordable,” he says.

André says since the beginning of 2021 he has opened close to 500 cases for Asylum seekers to obtain a work permit, and while he and many others are trying to aid the situation, more needs to be done.

“We are at a breaking point. We don’t have enough resources, we had a record year last year, 2022 and still coming up. And we don’t have the proper resources.”

For Frederic Boisrond, he hopes something like this does not happen again, adding that governments need to understand the repercussions of the lack of aid given to those who need it the most.

“There’s a lack of manpower, there’s more people coming into the system right now. We understand that. But we want [the government] to be aware that when the system is not working perfectly, some people will lose their lives. Some people will lose opportunities that they’re looking for,” Boisrond said.

André, says he will be going to the United States, to hand-deliver the ashes of Fritznel Richard back to his wife. For now, they have created an online fundraiser to help support the family.

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