Canadians are busy heaping their own funeral pyre.


Yasmin Ali, President, Canadian Muslim Women's Institute.


Rita Chahal, Executive Director, Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council; Executive Director, Welcome Place

Situation 'critical,' says Muslim Women's Institute, seeking donations for newly arrived refugees

CBC News, Feb 20, 2017

As more asylum-seekers continue to make their way into Manitoba, the Canadian Muslim Women's institute is putting out a call for donations. Yasmin Ali, president of CMWI, said refugees who have arrived in recent weeks are in dire need and desperate for winter clothing, towels, blankets, sheets and personal care items like soap and toothpaste. "It is critical they get help as soon as they arrive," says Ali.

Over the past weekend, RCMP caught 22 people crossing the border, including one baby. They're among 99 asylum seekers who have made their way into Manitoba near the Emerson border to make a refugee claim since 2017 began.

Ali said she's not surprised by the large number of people willing to risk their lives, walking for hours in the blistering cold, just to get a taste of freedom. "They just want to live a good life and be happy in Canada," says Ali.

Premier says Manitoba will 'absolutely' help refugees

CBC News, Feb 14, 2017

Rita Chahal, the executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, told CBC News on Monday she wants the province to open up some buildings it owns to house people who are walking across the border. Chahal says some of those buildings could be ready to inhabit within a few days. Chahall says Welcome Place has reached capacity.

Conservative Premier Brian Palmister says, "We have people who have waited many, many years to come in legally, into Canada and into Winnipeg. We have the provincial nominee program. They've been waiting five, six years, sometimes."

Ottawa plays a major part in not only with the current refugee situation but in assisting the province in settling Syrian refugees. Manitoba is in discussions with the federal government on better support for Syrian arrivals, but Pallister wants some kind of agreement in managing the current situation, especially as the province will have to provide assistance almost immediately.

In Ottawa, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen, a refugee from Somalia, was noncommittal when asked about an increase in funding to deal with the current influx. "We continue to monitor the situation closely and we'll respond appropriately," Hussen said Tuesday.

Pallister acknowledged several organizations dealing directly with the ongoing refugee situation. "It is a beautiful example of the way in which we go about helping others," Pallister said.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra welcomes 1,000 newcomers to free performance

CBC News, Feb 19, 2017

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra invited 1,000 newcomers to their performance Sunday afternoon free of charge.

The performance, called Once Upon A Dance, featured dance troupes from across the province. Programs were offered in Arabic, and the English portions of the performance were translated into Arabic for the audience.

"We just said, 'OK, what can we do that will actually be a very special kind of welcome for new Canadians, that shows how Manitobans work together that really shows how we are a nation that has come together [with] all sorts of cultural groups?'" said WSO executive director Trudy Schroeder. So they teamed up with the Canada Council for the Arts, The Winnipeg Foundation and SunLife to make it happen.

At first, they offered 600 tickets, but soon those were accounted for and another 700 people were on the waiting list.

"There was a huge welcome, a huge appreciation of this kind of welcome to Canada," said Schroeder.

Fahed Alhalabi provided the Arabic translation on stage. He immigrated to Canada with his family 10 years ago.

WSO Once Upon A Dance

The performance, called Once Upon A Dance, featured dance troupes from across the province performing works from Manitoba's history. (CBC)

"Most of them, they will not be able to understand English. Some of them, they started having school last year, but it will take them awhile," said Alhalabi. "We want to show them that we care about them … It will be a very good chance for them to digest the system we have here. If it's not for them, it will be for their child."

Alhalabi's eight-year-old daughter Janaa said it was her first time seeing the Symphony, and she was most excited to see her dad speak.

"I'm curious that like my dad is going to come on the stage, and he's going to explain," she said.

Schroeder said the response was so overwhelming they may consider doing similar performances in the future.

Even Mayor Brian Bowman made an appearance at the matinee concert.

"Early indications are this is something we should do again, but I think the beautiful thing is that culture and music does in fact cross across so many lines. People can really understand each other and appreciate the value and beauty of what people do in the arts."

Fahed Alhalabi

Fahed Alhalabi provided the Arabic translation on stage. He immigrated to Canada with his family 10 years ago. (CBC)

Two Tory MPs call on Ottawa to stop irregular Canada-U.S. border crossings

The Canadian Press, Feb 19, 2017

Two Conservative MPs are calling on the federal government to act to stop the flow of people irregularly crossing the United States border into Canada.

Michelle Rempel and Tony Clement tweeted on Sunday that the crossings are unsafe and place a burden on local law enforcement.

"The government must respond to this situation in a way that keeps Canadians safe, and sends a strong message to those considering an illegal crossing that there are proper channels to do this," Rempel wrote.

Clement, who is the public safety critic for the Conservatives, tweeted his support for Rempel's comments.

"Illegal crossings are unsafe and a burden on local communities. Our laws should be enforced," he wrote.

Rempel's message was posted after Manitoba RCMP announced that another 22 people were intercepted crossing the border near Emerson on Saturday night.

Officials have said a growing number of people are choosing to walk across the border into Canada to claim refugee status, including dozens who have been arrested in the Emerson area in recent weeks.

RCMP bracing for more border crossers amid community concerns

Other provinces including Quebec have also seen a large rise in the number of refugee claimants who enter the province irregularly.

The tactic is a way to avoid the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which prevents most people who have been living in the United States from making a refugee claim at an official border crossing on the premise that they are already somewhere safe.

Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement

Number of asylum-seekers crossing illegally into Quebec from U.S. spikes

This has prompted some people to cross elsewhere in order to make their claims from within Canada, where authorities generally grant them a hearing.

Montreal immigration lawyer Eric Taillefer said the easiest way to stop the irregular border crossings is to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement and allow people to request refugee status at official border crossings.

"These people are not crossing in the winter in -30 degree weather for fun — they're doing it because they don't have a choice," he said in a phone interview.

Taillefer suggested the tougher rules implemented under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper may have contributed to the current problem by making it more difficult for refugees to enter the country lawfully. "It's a bit their fault if we're in this situation, because the new refugee claim system that is having problems was put in place by the Conservatives in 2012. Before that, we didn't have these kind of problems," he said.

Support and solidarity: How Manitobans can help Muslim refugees

Winnipeg settlement services say they're already seeing more asylum claims since Donald Trump's inauguration

By Jillian Taylor, CBC News Posted: Feb 01, 2017 5:00 AM CT Last Updated: Feb 01, 2017 5:00 AM CT

Osaa Ahmed walked across a field for seven hours on a snowy November night to cross the U.S.-Canada border and make a refugee claim in Manitoba.

The Ghanaian man was denied asylum in the United States in 2016 and was set to be deported.

He said he wasn't given a date for when he had to leave, but with the election of Donald Trump he felt he had to get out of the country on his own.

"I wasn't feeling safe because they could come for me at any time and send me back home and I am afraid to go back," said Osaa.

He found refuge in Winnipeg and support at the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute, a settlement service which aids all newcomers.

"I feel welcome here at the Canadian Women's because they give me warm clothes, they welcome me any time I want," he said.

Osaa now provides translation services for other Ghanaian people.

The Canadian Muslim Women's Institute said it has already received 20 applications in 2017 for help from asylum seekers like Osaa.

Yasmin Ali, who is the president of the organization's board, said it typically only gets 20 such applications in an entire year.

Asylum seekers surge into Manitoba, with 10 refugee claims on Monday alone

"When you ask them, 'Why are you coming here?' they are all coming from the United States," she said. "And because of the new laws and the new president, now they are just a little bit afraid [of] what's happened to them."

"People are also afraid because of the Islamophobia that they have created," said Osaa. "People really want to come to Canada because they feel that Canada will just accept them and then Canada will make them feel at home."

MPs debate Donald Trump's travel ban in the House of Commons

Canadian Muslim Women's Institute

New Canadians are always looking for warm clothing donations at the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute. (CBC)

Ali said the agency is preparing for a surge of asylum seekers and is asking Manitobans for help. It provides everything from clothing to food to strollers and hygiene items.

"Especially for the ones coming across the border, they are walking with very little," she said.

Ali said the centre's client base has grown to around 300 families since Syrian refugees started arriving. She expects the number of clients to grow and suggests if people are wondering what to donate, they should check their drawers for old electronics.

"We got some donations of cellphones that had some minutes left on it … so they were able to call their families and tell them that they are safe and where they are," she said. "They really appreciated that, it made a big difference for them."

Rita Chahal, the executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, said what the refugees need is compassion — but they also need lawyers.

"You know, the ability to do pro bono work, lawyers could certainly help in that aspect," said Chahal. "We help do the paralegal work that is necessary. We get the application in place, get them connected, get them a place to stay immediately."

Free hugs for Muslims

Krista Michie is showing her support for Muslim Manitobans on her lapel. She's created a button to show newcomers they have a friend in her.

"I hug everybody, I am a huge hugger. So a friend of mine bought me a button that says 'free hugs' which I wear on my jacket," she said, which inspired her to design her own button that reads "free hugs for Muslims."

Free Hugs for Muslims

Krista Michie ordered 100 of these buttons following the fatal shooting at a Quebec mosque. (Krista Michie)

Michie said she was devastated by the fatal shooting at a mosque in Quebec City on Sunday and felt compelled to do something.

"I can't image how Muslim people and other people feel right now, so I just wanted to do something to bring some positivity to my world," said Michie.

She said she asked a Muslim friend before ordering the buttons if it was the right thing to do.

"He said it is a beautiful sentiment and that it is very much appreciated," she said.

She hopes that the buttons will send a message of inclusion and love. She's ordered 100 so far and is giving them out to anyone who wants one.

Osaa said it is small gestures like this that go a long way in helping refugees feel welcome in their new home.

Winnipeg charities appeal for financial help to support refugees

'Right now our immediate need is financial,' says Rita Chahal executive director

CBC News, Feb 13, 2017

Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, is appealing for the public and private sector to make financial donations to help her organization support refugees.

Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, is appealing for the public and private sector to make financial donations to help her organization support refugees.

Welcome Place is asking for financial donations from the public and private sector to help house the increasing number of refugees trekking overland into Canada near the Emerson, Man., border.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, which runs Welcome Place, said on Monday it has reached capacity at its three temporary housing units, which each have room for five people.

"This afternoon is really about making a formal request and appeal to the public and to the private sector for direct financial support," said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

On Monday the Winnipeg Foundation announced it is giving Welcome Place $33,000 in grants to help kick off their fundraising campaign. Of the amount, $23,000 came from an anonymous donor.

On Saturday alone, Welcome Place assisted 21 refugees who crossed into Manitoba from the United States. The group included one family with three young children, including a six-month-old baby. Most are from Eastern Africa originally — Djibouti and Somalia.

Manitoba RCMP said a total of 28 people jumped the border near Emerson on the weekend. The year-to-date the total number of people who have crossed the border for 2017 is 69, said RCMP.

On the previous weekend 22 people crossed the same frozen fields to claim asylum in Canada.

Since April 2016 Welcome Place has worked with nearly 300 refugees, where on a typical year they would handle between 60 and 70 claimants, said Chahal.

Welcome Place does not have the capacity to accept donations of food, clothing or furniture, said Chahal, but they work with other organization that do, including the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute.

The Salvation Army stepped up and offered beds for all 21 people.

"I can't tell you how incredible this community is, we have all come together," said Chahal.

Her staff has been working around the clock, driving refugees to Winnipeg and helping them prepare their refugee documentation and applications, she said. The charity has also reached out to law students in Winnipeg to help them process claims.

Chahal expects more refugees to arrive in Manitoba and when they do, they will need the funds to properly support them.

"Right now our immediate need is financial," said Chahal.

"We need the resources to staff people, to recruit and to work with the clients directly as well as find places for [refugees] to stay."

Chahal said she has yet to speak directly with the province but when they do, her organization is asking for public housing to be immediately made available to shelter the asylum seekers.

In response, Housing Minister Scott Fielding said the government "is committed to ensuring that we continue to live up to our reputation for compassion."

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