Asylum seekers and French people, four keys to understanding

French Language Commissioner Benoît Dubreuil tabled a report on Wednesday. Among the recommendations which caused the most ink to be spilled and reactions to in the two capitals, that of “distributing” asylum seekers according to the criterion of language. Decryption.

In numbers

Asylum seekers who do not speak French represent approximately 48,000 people, according to the commissioner’s report, that is to say 0.5% of the population of Quebec. A total of 160,650 asylum seekers were present on the territory of the province as of 1er last October, according to Statistics Canada estimates.

What Commissioner Dubreuil underlined more generally in the 140 pages of his report is that the increase in temporary immigration “has repercussions on the situation of French in Quebec”.

Temporary immigrants include three main categories: foreign students, temporary workers from several programs and asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are temporary immigrants who come on their own, unlike temporary workers or students, who are recruited by an employer or educational institution.

They are also “the most vulnerable”, underlines Adèle Garnier, professor in the geography department at Laval University.

According to her, the “amalgam” created by the addition of these different categories of immigrants must be rethought. “ [Les demandes d’asile], these are forced migrations, people seeking protection. This is not at all the way in which the criteria [d’asile] are constructed. […] Language should not be part of it. »

Between reality and targets, a mismatch

The CAQ government plans to admit 3,550 asylum seekers per year as permanent residents. This is therefore 45 times less than the number of applicants currently present in Quebec.

Asylum is granted by a federal commission when a person has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or public opinion” in their native country. When a person is recognized as a refugee, they then become a permanent resident.

Given the maximum set at 3,550 by provincial planning, files are piling up: last fall, there were 30,000 refugees recognized by Ottawa but living here who were waiting for the green light from the province.

Commissioner Dubreuil’s report also seems to overestimate the real increase in the number of asylum applications. It states that “in Canada, the number of asylum applications has increased 30-fold in recent years.” The upward trend is very real, but their number has instead multiplied by 9 between 2015 and 2023. The reference year used (2015) is also among the three lowest in the last 24 years.

This report “is not a scientific study: it does not convince me”, notes Mme Garnier, who recalls that the position of French language commissioner is a political appointment.

The reality of francization

The three main categories of temporary immigrants formed the majority (61%) of Francisation Québec’s clientele between April and the end of 2023. But francization must be done better and faster, says Commissioner Dubreuil in substance. , which would require considerable sums of money.

For meme Garnier, we must not take “people as units of language”, without regard to the rest of their lives. The “mathematical formula” cannot be perfect, and there are many barriers to learning. Quebec notably cut off access to subsidized daycare for these people, which the Court of Appeal ruled was discrimination based on sex last week. Asylum seekers are also not entitled to financial assistance to participate in French courses.

“I generally agree that we need to increase the means of francization,” notes Professor Garnier. “But it’s the way we go about it that’s problematic. » Language is not “exclusively the criterion of belonging to Quebec. There are many other things that make us a caring society,” insists the researcher.

“Distribute” the applicants?

Commissioner Benoit Dubreuil’s report does not detail how asylum seekers could be distributed, beyond the need for a federal mechanism. And despite repeated outings on this subject from Quebec Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, few concrete proposals are on the table, at least publicly. People on Canadian territory generally have the right to move freely, notes Adèle Garnier.

In fact, countries like Germany do distribute asylum seekers across their territory by offering them housing or social assistance only in a specific location. This model could, however, be “complex” from the point of view of Canadian institutions, according to Professor Garnier. It also has the disadvantage of cutting them off from their family, social and community networks, noted two other professors in the journal Policy options in March 2023.

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