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Asylum seekers, church leaders demand help from York Region
Sept. 15, 2023

Asylum seekers staying at a church in Vaughan staged a silent protest in York Region’s council chambers today as church leaders criticized the regional government for failing them.

Miracle Arena for All Nations and ANCHOR Canada demanded action from the government to help support the influx of African asylum seekers who have come to Vaughan, as well as Toronto and other surrounding areas. More than 30 attended, holding up signs in council chambers demanding action.

“We are here today to hold a silent protest, in recognition of the silence we have heard from the chair of York Region,” ANCHOR Canada executive director Shernett Martin said. “The people here are a small fraction that we have served every day for the last three months here in the city … What I see is a need. What I see is people sleeping on the streets of Toronto, have come to the City of Vaughan to seek support, and they’re not seeing it.”

Millions have fled Sudan in recent months due to armed conflict. Canada has put in place temporary measures for Sudanese nationals and started prioritizing the processing of temporary and permanent residence applications from the country. Many refugees have come to the Toronto area seeking support.

Miracle Arena For All Nations has stepped up to help refugees by providing a haven. But Martin alleged that their calls for support from the region have been rebuffed or ignored, with region staff repeatedly telling them to access services in Toronto despite being based in Vaughan.

“If we are paying our taxes to this region, why are we being sent outside of that region to support asylum seekers who are there in this city and this region?” Martin asked.

She further said York Region significantly supported to refugees from Syria and Ukraine, but current asylum seekers have not seen the same consideration.

The group's demands included the release of beds used by the region temporarily amidst the pandemic, a bus stop outside their church to help asylum seekers access critical services, public health support and items like furniture and clothing.

York Region councillors did not directly speak to the claims or demands in the public session, with a verbal update on the matter left to the closed session of the meeting. However, council indicated staff would meet with church representatives in the afternoon.

But there was tension in the chamber between council and the delegation. At one point, as Martin moved to address regional council, the contingent stood up with her as part of the protest. Chairman Wayne Emmerson said they should sit down, concerned they might come forward with Martin, but the group refused and stayed standing during the delegations of Martin and church minister Isaac Oppong.

Answers will come, Emmerson told the group.

“I know my staff at the region, and I know the Vaughan staff, are working for a solution there,” Emmerson said.

Oppong said the groups have not received any funding in the past three months as they have helped the refugees.

“This is not a Toronto issue, this is a GTA issue,” he said.