Hundreds of people convened on Sunday in Montreal to protest against the possible deportation of thousands of Haitian migrants. Nearly 500 people marched from St. Michel metro station in Montreal to Jarry Park.

The Haitian migrants had been protected by a moratorium that prevented their deportation and were allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds. However on June 1, their protected status as refugees in Canada was revoked, after the federal government lifted the moratorium last December.

Although the Canadian government facilitated an application process to allow the migrants to stay in the country, most could not afford the  $550 application fee.

About 500,000 undocumented people are believed to be living in Canada, Romina Hernandez of Solidarity Across Borders said.

“They live without access to health services. They can’t attend schools. They must work under the table, for less than minimum wage. Because they have no official identification papers, they don’t even have access to food banks,” she said.

“Just imagine living under such conditions. To live like this, you would have to have some pretty strong reasons for not wanting to return to the place you came from.”

Critics of the moratorium lift argue the government should stop spending money on detention and forced deportation and instead find ways to integrate undocumented migrants into Canadian society.

“In factories, agricultural fields, restaurants, hospitals and homes around Montreal, migrants work in precarity to produce cheap goods and food, to clean, serve and look after the children of the middle class and wealthy,” Solidarity Across Borders said in a statement.

“Social benefits enjoyed by Canadian citizens are subsidized by the labor of people reviled in racist discourses as ‘illegals,’ ‘bogus refugees,’ ‘criminals.’ ”

The recently announced policy change is said to affect approximately 3,200 Haitian nationals, in additional to 300 people from Zimbabwe, the other country to which it applies.

Immigration Canada suspended deportations in the wake of unrest following the 2004 coup that deposed then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristede, based on its assessment that the lives of deportees to Haiti would be at risk due to prevailing conditions at the time.

In a joint announcement, Canada’s Immigration and Safety ministers state that immigrants from both countries will face deportation within six months if they remain in Canada without obtaining legal status. Justifying the moratorium’s end, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Steven Blaney, stated that, “Haitians have demonstrated tremendous courage in recovering from the earthquake of 2010 and years of political instability.” He added that “Canada is simply following the steps of its ‘allies’ after a thorough review of conditions” in Haiti.

Advocates for refugees, however, have expressed shock at Ottawa’s decision, citing reports by the federal government itself and international aid groups that found little progress in Haiti. Raoul Boulakia, president of Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario, stated, “Conditions have not improved at all. For Canada to lift the suspension of removals when things remain precarious, it’s a complete disregard of what’s happening in Haiti.”  The Canadian government currently has a travel advisory for Haiti, saying, “the security situation is hazardous and very unpredictable.”

Many have expressed concern about how they will support their family if separated from their spouse or what will become of children who were born in Canada from migrant parents. According to the Non-Status Action Committee, It will also cost $550 per adult and $150 per child to make a humanitarian claim, an exorbitant amount for many migrant individuals and families.

Both the refugee association and la Maison d’Haiti, a Montreal-based Haitian community group, urge the government to grant permanent residence to those affected if they have been in Canada for three or more years.

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