News / Winnipeg

Manitoba premier says Ottawa has not replied to request for refugee aid

Premier Brian Pallister says it is not acceptable for the federal government to stand by and watch, as the number of asylum-seekers continues to grow.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister responds to media after meeting with the Manitoba Islamic Association at the Grand Mosque in Winnipeg, Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the federal government has not responded to his request for more money to handle an influx of refugee claimants coming across the United States border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister responds to media after meeting with the Manitoba Islamic Association at the Grand Mosque in Winnipeg, Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the federal government has not responded to his request for more money to handle an influx of refugee claimants coming across the United States border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to respond to Manitoba's call for help in dealing with an influx of asylum-seekers crossing the border from the United States, Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday.

Pallister said he wrote to Trudeau more than a week ago to ask for money for housing, welfare, language training, legal aid and other services for border-crossers.

"We have limited resources like, frankly, all provinces, but more so because of the financial situation we've inherited. And it is unfair to stand by and watch ... while others are doing the heavy lifting," Pallister said.

"We're proud to be part of Team Canada but we need the federal government to step up and do its job."

Pallister also wants Trudeau to call U.S. President Donald Trump "to be sure that he understands the circumstances and the danger of the situation."

The small community of Emerson, Man., has seen a sharp increase in the number of people walking over from the United States in recent months, away from official border posts. Many are originally from African nations who fear deportation from the U.S. under a new immigration crackdown.

They cross over fields and through ditches because they would be turned back at official border points if they have already made a refugee claim in the U.S. If they make it onto Canadian soil before being apprehended, they can stay in Canada and go through the normal refugee application process.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale visited Emerson last weekend and promised to cover extra costs borne by the community's first responders, who have been helping border-crossers survive frigid weather.

Goodale has also said he will raise the issue with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in a face-to-face meeting scheduled for Friday.

Pallister said his government needs help, because it is already looking at millions of extra dollars in support services costs, and the number of refugee claimants could grow as the weather warms up.

"These are real people with real needs, and a real cost is being incurred, and the sharing has to start very, very soon here."

In a written statement, the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said most of the services involved are a provincial responsibility, except for an interim health program designed for refugee claimants.

"Except for health services, which are funded by the government of Canada ... provision of all these supports is the responsibility of provinces and territories. Municipalities or non-profit organizations also provide some supports," reads the statement supplied by regional spokesperson Faith St. John.

The federal government also provides settlement services such as language and employment training once a refugee claim is approved, St. John added.

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