EXPLAINER

What refugee claimants receive from the government

Refugee claimants have access to social assistance, education and basic health care while they wait for their claim to be decided. Here's a closer look at what services are available.

Asylum seekers have access to health care, social assistance, education

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer informs migrants of their rights at the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border, Aug. 7, 2017. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

For many of the thousands of migrants making their way into Canada illegally near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. border crossing, setting foot on Canadian soil is just the first step in the process to gain the right to stay legally.

Aslyum seekers must file a claim with the Immigration and Refugee Board and while they wait for the board's decision, they have access to government services, including social assistance and health care.

The services are provided by different government agencies, most of which have funds set aside for new arrivals.

Here's a look at what happens once a claimant has entered the country.

What happens at the border

When migrants arrive at unofficial border crossings like Roxham Road near Lacolle, they are apprehended by RCMP, who verify identification and then take the asylum seekers to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) office for a health and security check.

Their request to claim asylum in the country is registered and they are referred to PRAIDA, the provincial government organization that helps new arrivals in their first months.

PRAIDA assesses their psychosocial and medical needs before determining whether to send them to one of the 12 centres set up to temporarily house refugees.

There is currently a wait of about three days, as somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 migrants wait to be processed. Many are sleeping in tents installed by Canadian Forces.

Finding a place to stay

The stadium is being used as temporary housing to deal with the influx of asylum seekers, but won't be available anymore in September. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Asylum seekers must declare how much money they have at the border. Their financial status affects whether they get to stay in one of the temporary housing centres and for how long.

If agents determine that families don't have a lot of money, they can typically stay in the centres until their first monthly social assistance cheque arrives, according to Paul Clarke, the executive director of Action Réfugiés Montreal.

Newcomers usually have to wait between 21 and 35 days for a cheque, but Clarke says the increase in demand could cause delays.

The Quebec government has enlisted a number of organizations to help asylum seekers find permanent places to live. Once they've found a place, however, they face further challenges.

If a person already established in Canada loses their job, chances are they have some clothes, furniture in their apartment, a bit of food in the pantry and some pots and pans to cook it with, said Clarke.

"Imagine being on welfare and you have none of that. How do you even get started?" he said.  "You have the cheque, you rent a place, but where do you sleep, where do you sit?"

Getting income

The welfare Clarke is referring to is what the Quebec government calls "last resort special assistance," which is $628 for one single adult per month. The assistance is managed by the province's ministry of employment services. 

The amount is comparable to B.C., where a single person gets $610, but lower than Manitoba, which will give a single adult about $750 a month.

To obtain a work permit, asylum seekers must first meet with Immigration Canada to determine if they are eligible for a refugee claim. 

That usually happens within the first few days of arrival, but PRAIDA says the "unprecedented" influx has created delays of more than three months.

Next, claimants apply for a federal work permit, but the time it takes to process work permits is stretching to about four months and could get longer.

Those delays mean claimants could face months on social assistance without the ability to get a job.

The Quebec government stops providing financial assistance once a refugee claimant finds a job.

Health care and education

Refugee claimants in Quebec have access to health services and some prescription drugs, covered by the Interim Federal Health Program or by Quebec's health insurance.

Catherine Harel-Bourdon, president of the Commission scolaire de Montréal, says the school board is doing everything it can to have all of the school-age asylum seekers enrolled by the first day of classes Aug. 28. (Radio-Canada)

French-language pre-school, elementary and secondary school is free for children between the ages of 5 and 18, but in order to enrol, claimants need to present their Refugee Protection Claimant document issued by the federal immigration ministry. 

Claimants can also take French-language courses for free. Those courses, as well as the education for children, are the responsibility of Quebec's education ministry.

Obtaining status

Once an asylum seeker has submitted their refugee claim, they have to wait for a hearing that will either approve or deny the claim.

If they are denied, they can appeal the decision under certain conditions. If they exhaust the appeals process they will be ordered to leave the country.

Claimants can also try to apply for permanent residency under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Several community groups help connect asylum seekers with lawyers and those who don't have the means to pay fees are eligible for legal aid.

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours

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