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An asylum seeker died after waiting hours for a shelter space. Advocates are demanding action

An asylum seeker who waited hours in the cold to be allowed inside a Mississauga shelter died over the weekend, say advocates demanding immediate action to address growing pressure on the region’s already overcrowded shelter system. 

Leaders of African Canadian groups are scheduled to speak about the death at a news conference in Mississauga on Friday.

Kizito Musabimana, executive director of the Rwandan Canadian Healing Centre, said the asylum seeker arrived at the shelter at 1767 Dundas St. E. at about 2 p.m. on Saturday and was forced to wait outside in the cold for about six hours, before she was let into the lobby at about 8 p.m. 

She spent the night there and collapsed in the lobby on Sunday, he said. She was taken to hospital shortly afterwards and died there just after 4:30 p.m. The cause of death has not been released.

“People are coming to seek refuge and what we are doing is leaving them on the street, in this case, leaving them outside for hours,” Musabimana said. 

In a news release, the groups say the asylum seeker was a woman from Kenya. Last fall, another asylum seeker, a Nigerian man, died outside of the same shelter. 

A spokesperson for Peel Region confirmed to CBC News that the asylum seeker arrived at the shelter over the Family Day weekend only to find there was no space, and died in hospital after spending the night on the floor of the shelter’s lobby.

Local councillor calls for more federal funding

The death is prompting a local councillor to call on the federal government to provide $7 million in promised funding for a welcome centre for refugees and asylum seekers near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport as well as additional funding to help Peel Region settle asylum seekers. Specifically, Peel Region wants $84 million to provide shelter to asylum seekers and another $9 million to cover the costs of settling Ukrainian refugees.

Mississauga ward 7 Coun. Dipika Damerla is pictured at city hall.
Mississauga councillor Dipika Damerla, who represents Ward 7, said the shelter is not to blame for the death but the death is a sign that the temporary homeless shelter system in Peel Region is overburdened. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC)

The federal government has promised funding for the welcome centre, but Mississauga councillor Dipika Damerla, who represents Ward 7, says the money for that hasn’t begun flowing.

Damerla said the shelter is not to blame for the death. Instead, the death is a sign that the temporary shelter system in Peel Region is overburdened, she said. 

The region is currently providing shelter for about 1,200 asylum seekers. 

“This just shines a spotlight on the enormous pressure our shelter systems are under,” Damerla said on Thursday, adding the woman received timely medical assistance at the shelter and hospital.

“We are sometimes turning away asylum seekers and I think that’s a disgrace. The situation has gotten worse,” she added.  “And it doesn’t have to be this way. If the federal government would just come to the table and start funding us properly, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Region needs to do more: advocate

But local advocates say the region needs to do more than lobby for more funding. 

“We want answers and the answers cannot be, ‘Oh, we need to get the money from the federal government so we can do this work,'” Musabimana said.

“We need to spend and then go to the federal government to be reimbursed if that’s what needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News the federal government has provided $10 million to Peel Region as an installment toward its final 2023 Interim Housing Assistance Program claim. 

“The federal government has also committed to supporting to open a new reception centre that will provide temporary shelter and more streamlined services and supports to asylum claimants. On January 31, 2024, Minister Miller announced an additional $362.4 million in funding for the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP). This is in addition to the $212 million that was announced in the summer of 2023,” the statement said.

“We are deeply saddened to hear news about the death of an individual at a shelter in Mississauga. Our hearts go out to the family.”

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