In Niagara Falls, the psychological distress of several asylum seekers
6 mins read

In Niagara Falls, the psychological distress of several asylum seekers

Soaring rents, culinary differences and the language barrier complicate the integration of asylum seekers housed in Niagara Falls, not without consequences on their mental health.

“Finding a job for French speakers is not easy. Housing is even worse,” testifies Nickensonievzsky Aubourg, an agent at the Hamilton/Niagara Community Health Center (CSCHN), which serves the French-speaking community. Renting a room in the area can cost $800 per month; a basement, $1,300, he says.

This context also pushes several asylum seekers to return to Montreal even if they no longer benefit from accommodation paid for by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Yusuf has already thought about going to Montreal, but he doesn’t speak French. This is why this Kurdish asylum seeker, whom we are using a fictitious name for his security, plans to settle in Niagara Falls. But leaving the hotel where he is staying with his wife and three-year-old son is not an option for the moment. His wife speaking neither English nor French, he is the only one in the family who can work. Yusuf therefore works multiple shifts as an Uber driver, sometimes working 70 hours a week. If he were to find his own accommodation, the money he earns would allow him to “pay for the car and the house.” “But what would I eat? » he says.

“I didn’t come to Canada for the money. I came to ensure a future for my son,” Yusuf repeats. Arriving in the country a year and a half ago, the man who was a teacher and farmer in Turkey applies “every day” for new jobs. But “they never call me back,” he said, deploring the fact of not having anyone else to respond to other than the local pastor.

However, “these people, they come here with assets,” says Bonaventure Otshudi, director of services for newcomers at CSCHN. “We have doctors, nurses, people who are qualified, who are there, but who are waiting (to have a job). »

Psychological distress

Three times a week, Mr. Aubourg welcomes asylum seekers in pocket offices located in hotels to help them in their search for accommodation, enroll them in English courses or even support them in their immigration procedures. immigration.

Some just want to say “hello” and chat, he says, but many struggle with mental health issues. Their desire to help family members still in their country of origin weighs on their psychological state, notes Mr. Aubourg. “I think there are more people in distress (than in 2022), even if it doesn’t appear. We black people tend to neglect mental health,” he says, recounting that many are “reluctant” to receive help.

“If you’re in a country where you don’t have anyone to talk to, you don’t have anyone to tell your story or ask questions, it can be a little depressing,” says Olayinka Animashaun. Fleeing domestic violence, the Nigerian arrived alone in Canada in 2015; her two children joined her three years later. Now a Canadian citizen, she has since given birth to a third child and co-founded the Niagara African and Caribbean Cultural Organization, which helps black newcomers find housing and employment.

Be on your plate

Mme Animashaun also set up the Chrispy African Market, in St. Catharines, about twenty kilometers from Niagara Falls, where she sells products imported from Africa at low prices. All this without any government funding, she laments. Cow’s foot, goat’s head, plantain foufou (a paste eaten with sauce), clothes, wigs: there’s something for everyone. The customers of the premises, who were swarming there when the Duty last week, can even use the market’s communal kitchen to prepare meals and share the costs.

“At lunchtime, they eat cold sandwiches. In the evening, a little soup, and they don’t eat their fill, says Mr. Otshudi. We asked the hotel if it was possible to have culturally adapted cuisine for these asylum seekers, and immigration listened to us in several hotels,” he admits.

“In hotels, they give them food that they don’t know how to eat,” says Animashaun. Like if you went to Africa and I made egusi for you; they don’t know what pierogi, cucumber or broccoli is. »

This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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