Why are we letting refugees die on the streets in Toronto?

Why Are We Letting Refugees Die On The Streets In Toronto?

The Urgent Need for Compassionate Refugee Support in Canada’s GTA to Prevent Tragedy

Toronto, ON: A homeless person’s sign next reads, “It means a lot to care” at a makeshift campsite along a sidewalk in Parkdale. Image by Everett Atlas via Getty Images

Content Warning: This article discusses sensitive topics, including sexual violence, trauma, and the loss of life, both within the healthcare system for refugees and immigrants in Canada and in their countries of origin. Some readers may find these subjects disturbing. If you or someone you know is in need of support, we encourage reaching out to local support services
Note to Readers: to protect the privacy and safety of individuals, names have been changed. The experiences shared, however, are real and reflect the grave challenges many refugees and immigrants encounter on their journey to safety while seeking healthcare.

Another asylum seeker died recently, alone, at night, in the freezing streets of the GTA. Delphina Ngigi, a mother of four from Africa, was unhoused on the doorstep of a shelter, asking to be let in but ultimately turned away. Canada invited her here, but Canada let her down.

Everyone we speak to asks us the same question: Why are refugees dying homeless on Toronto streets?

This problem didn’t just happen; it was created. While refugee homelessness increased and GTA shelters burst at their seams, federal, provincial and municipal politicians dithered, wasting time blaming each other as winter set in. Delphina Ngigi’s tragic death could have been completely avoidable.

Why were politicians arguing during an escalating crisis? Much like the old, biased views of deserving and undeserving poor, there are “good and bad” refugees in the minds of many of them. Ms. Ngigi fits into the latter category. 

“Good” refugees are ones Canada’s federal government selects for entry and resettlement. “Bad” refugees make their refugee asylum claims in Canada – something this government is now openly discouraging. They are the refugees on the streets. 

Most who seek our asylum have no choice. They’ve fled for their lives, like Precious, a refugee who found her way to our Centre. Thrown in jail by government-aligned militia in her East African country for peacefully demonstrating for women’s rights, Precious was beaten, her teeth were knocked out, and she was raped repeatedly. Unable to wait, Precious fled to Canada and made her refugee claim. Our medical teams here provided her care at a Toronto shelter.

A dangerous, inequitable, more violent world is generating more refugees and displaced persons than at the end of World War II. Real action needs to come soon enough before more refugees die. Both Delphina and Precious struggled for their lives in their home countries. Why does Canada make them do it again when they come here?

The Canadian Centre for Refugee & Immigrant Healthcare is on the ground, providing care in Toronto’s refugee homeless shelters. We have established on-site clinics and treated thousands of vulnerable newcomers. Expanding our humanitarian response has pushed us beyond our resources now, just when more is needed.

Let’s come together to provide a lifeline to refugees & asylum seekers inside our borders. If you want to join us and become part of the humanitarian solution, consider donating to the Canadian Centre for Refugee & Immigrant Healthcare.