Protection is urgently needed for trafficked non-status migrants!
It’s hard to believe it’s already been seven months! Last March, we were busy getting ready for Beijing+25, the UN conference celebrating 25 years since the global community set goals to realize gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
We were going to New York to bring attention to how lack of immigration status creates vulnerabilities to human trafficking in Canada but also globally. It would have been a way to advocate the need to change how migrants who have been trafficked into Canada or have precarious immigration status, are handled by the immigration system.
Instead the pandemic happened, the UN conference was cancelled, and the uncertainty of non-status migrants only amplified.
A migrant worker who goes by the pseudonym ‘Maria’ shared her story of coercion and exploitation at the Canadian Council for Refugees' press conference Forced Labour Happens in Canada on 10 June 2020.
In 2017, Maria was brought to Canada by her employers under the pretense of accompanying them on a two-month vacation. They had lied, and were settling here permanently, although Maria didn’t have the appropriate visa. She worked 12-hour days as a live-in caregiver, six days a week, and was paid only $600 a month.
"I was afraid to lose my job because I am the only support of my family. I suffered emotional and physical abuse from my employer. I was traumatized until the Migrant Workers' Centre found a place for me," said Maria.
According to Shelley Gilbert, co-chair of the CCR Anti-Trafficking Committee, "a lack of status or precarious status is used by traffickers to recruit or to lure victims. A lack of status is used to frighten people, to threaten them and to coerce them into working in sometimes dangerous situations. This lack of status is used as a means to exploit people, exploit their labour and often steal thousands of dollars from them."
Eventually, Maria was granted a six-month temporary resident permit for human trafficking victims but could not get an extension because an immigration official refused to hear all the details in her case. She is appealing but her case is delayed due to COVID-19.
"The Temporary Resident Permit for Victims of Trafficking in Persons (VTIP-TRP) is the only immediate means for undocumented trafficked people to obtain temporary status and access crucial programs and services they require to address the physical, emotional and financial hardship they have endured,” says Gilbert.
However, people with lived experience and advocates have long seen that the process of obtaining a VTIP-TRP is not working.
"It is difficult to live without status but I also cannot leave Canada because of COVID-19. It is very difficult knowing that my application (for a TRP extension) is on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic," says Maria. "I feel trapped".
Natalie Drolet, executive director of the Migrant Workers' Centre in B.C. is supporting Maria’s case for a VTIP-TRP extension. Drolet says that individual immigration officers have too much discretion in granting TRPs and national standards need to be applied to protect trafficking survivors.
There also needs to be a broader recognition of human trafficking beyond sexual exploitation. Migrants with precarious immigration status can be in forced labour situations in every industry.
Gilbert says migrant worker cases aren’t taken as seriously by police or government, for a variety of reasons. Now, because of COVID-19, migrant workers are starting to be recognized as part of our essential industries, and less as ‘throw away people’, she said.
Advocates, front-line workers and people with lived experience are all saying that the status quo is not good enough.
We want the federal government to put human rights and social justice at the centre of immigration policies and programs that currently make people vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
Calls to Action
The experience of front-line workers and advocates seeking TRPs has raised three specific calls to action.
The federal government must:
Make VTIP-TRPs accessible to trafficked persons in a way that reflects how people are coerced and exploited in Canada. This grounded understanding of international trafficking in Canada needs to be consistently applied across all provinces.
Collaborate with front-line workers who have expert understanding of how recruitment, deception, fraud, coercion are means to exploit people in Canada.
Seize this unprecedented opportunity to put human rights and social justice at the centre of immigration policies and programs as reflected in our long-term policy demands.
What can you do?
Call on the government to make these changes, call or write your MP
Partner with the CCR to advance one or more of these policy demands.