Migrant workers in Vancouver demand rights, status

Vancouver-based advocacy groups are standing up for migrant workers’ rights in Canada. Angela Bower speaks to protesters about the barrier people without status face.

By Angela Bower

Protesters gathered in the snow in downtown Vancouver on Sunday to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow up on his promise to expand access to permanent resident status for all migrant workers.

It came in honour of International Migrants Day — a day to reflect on the contributions of migrants around the world.

Omar Chu works closely with migrant workers with Sanctuary Health, which offers medical access regardless of one’s immigration status in Vancouver. Chu tells CityNews he is fighting for migrant independence.

“We are looking for rights to education, rights to healthcare to do not be afraid of deportation,” he said.

“So much of our system right now creates a power dynamics that enables exploitation,” Chu continued.

“When you are reliant on a spouse, on your job or school- for your right to be in this country that enables abuse of power.

A tapestry featuring different messages calling for more rights for migrant workers in Canada

Protesters gathered in downtown Vancouver on Sunday to call on the federal government to do more to ensure the rights of migrant workers. (Angela Bower, CityNews)

Chu says without permanent resident status, migrants experience abuse at work, along with denial of basic services including healthcare, family separation, unsafe housing, racism and discrimination. Through his work, he says he has heard of refugees not being welcomed.

“The government doesn’t believe them that they are fleeing violence and persecution- and they are going to deport children who only know Canada as their home and the tears and trauma that creates is something as a community we need to stand up against,” he said.

Read More: B.C. family’s deportation battle comes to a close, for now

Another issue highlighted by Chu is the exploitation migrants face while at work, with many facing deportations if they can no longer work as their status in the country is dependent on employment.

“If you are on a work permit and your status is tied to your job and you get hurt and you cannot work- then you are losing your status in this country,” he explained

“We need a program that includes everyone and doesn’t leave anyone out.”

Chu and fellow protestors at the Sunday event underlined how there are currently 1.7 million undocumented workers waiting to become permanent residents in Canada.

CityNews reached out to the Primer Minister’s office but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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