New toolkit helps professionals guide asylum seekers on their journey in Canada

At a meeting at the CLSC Park Extension, contributors discuss a new guide to assist asylum seekers. Left to right, Annie Pontbriand, Head of Coordination at the SHERPA university research centre; Noémie Trosseille, research officer at CERDA; Mélanie M. Gagnon, Head of Coordination at CERDA.
At a meeting at the CLSC Park Extension, contributors discuss a new guide to assist asylum seekers. Left to right, Annie Pontbriand, Head of Coordination at the SHERPA university research centre; Noémie Trosseille, research officer at CERDA; Mélanie M. Gagnon, Head of Coordination at CERDA.

Guide provides answers for frontline workers who are interacting with newcomers

Sara is a 45-year-old widow from Syria with two young sons. She arrived in Canada as an asylum seeker and is struggling to make her way in a new world. Seeking help, Sara turns to a local CLSC with questions.

Does she have a right to medical care? Is she legally allowed to work? How long before she can expect a hearing for her refugee claim?

These are the kinds of queries that frontline workers in the healthcare and social services system face routinely in Quebec. And now, thanks to an effort by a team from our CIUSSS’s Centre of Expertise on the Well-being and Physical Health of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (CERDA), these employees have a valuable new guide that provides answers.

A team headed by Mélanie M. Gagnon, Head of Coordination at CERDA, has produced an information “toolkit” to help workers who are interacting with asylum seekers. It includes a 74-page guide featuring people such as Sara, a composite character whose dilemmas are based on those faced by real-life asylum seekers every day.

The surge in asylum seekers into Quebec has presented new challenges for community, healthcare and social services. In 2018, Quebec witnessed the arrival of nearly 28,000 people seeking refugee status in Canada. While most settle in Montreal, others have ended up in other cities across Quebec.

The CERDA-produced guide, done in collaboration with the SHERPA university research centre, has been sent to CIUSSSs as well as to schools and community groups. It’s an especially helpful resource for employees outside Montreal who have had little or no experience dealing with international migration.

The guide addresses a wide range of issues that confront asylum seekers during their journey in Canada, such as daycare access, work permits, housing and the legal steps involved in the refugee-determination process.

The goal is to assist professionals by telling them about the resources available for asylum seekers – a step that ultimately helps the newcomers adapt and integrate, Ms. Gagnon says. Another objective is to sensitize professionals to the newcomers’ needs, she says.

“We want people to better understand the reality of the asylum seekers, and realize how precarious their status is,” Ms. Gagnon says. Many face tremendous stress as they wait for their refugee claims to be heard. “We want people to understand the instability and the fears this can cause.”

At the same time, asylum seekers can often draw on a reservoir of inner strength. “Despite everything, they are very resourceful and resilient” Ms. Gagnon says.

In addition to the guide, the toolkit features seven online videos with experts, and a summary of Quebec services for asylum seekers in French, English, Spanish and Arabic. 

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