Growing Number of Unaccompanied Minors Entering Canada

Why There Are So Many Child Refugees and What Lies in Store for Them Upon Arriving in Canada

In search of a better future, or any future for that matter, child and teen refugees are fleeing their home countries, separating from their families, and making their way into the Canadian refugee system.

These countries are often chaotic, violent, and dealing with decades of never-ending conflict, threatening not only their basic human needs but also their lives.

These children have frequently witnessed atrocities or experienced them first-hand. They’re also at risk due to the dangers they face if they stay or are caught attempting to flee. In areas like the Congo, civilians are being murdered or displaced by the millions and children are being forced into slave labour, prostitution, and militia rebel groups. It’s not hard to understand the immense urge to escape they must feel despite the risk of persecution and violence.

With no future in their home country, their need to escape outweighs the risk they’re taking. But the challenges don’t stop once they arrive in Canada.

Uncertain of their future, unaccompanied minors arriving in Canada must learn to adapt to their new environment while being away from their families. According to long-time refugee advocate Anne Woolger, this problem is relatively new.

“I don’t remember seeing them back 30 years ago, period, [now] some of them are coming … 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds by themselves with no parents,” said Woolger, speaking to CBC News.

The number of unaccompanied minors (persons below the age of 18 without a parent or legal guardian) making refugee claims increased from 287 in 2016 to 492 in 2017, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Some are lucky enough to arrive in Canada through sponsorship programs and support from private individuals or the government. This offers a wealth of support for finding housing, getting money for food, and help in adjusting to their new life in Canada.

Still, the system falls short when it comes to unannounced arrivals showing up at the border. In addition to the hardships many asylum seekers face at irregular border crossings, many of these minors wind up living on the street despite their country of origin and age, said Woolger.

“They were coming from the same country, with same stories of persecution, torture, really heartbreaking… [then] they were literally numbered among the homeless.”

With a marginalized group being left in such a vulnerable state and facing potential dangers after having already experienced devastating hardships and being forced to leave their families and home country, Woolger founded the Matthew House in Toronto.

The home offers unaccompanied minors a fresh start in a new environment, helping them adjust and offering them support and encouragement. They are welcomed and given a fully-furnished room to stay in until they’re ready to be on their own.

Lawyers are also available to help claimants develop a strategy and prepare for their refugee hearings. From mock trials to translation services, they are equipped with what they need for the best chances at a successful outcome.

Claimants receive guidance from “house parents” who are made up of a group of volunteers that sometimes live in the home. These volunteers are necessary resources for these refugees and help them make educated, informed decisions when it comes to their future in Canada. The goal is to get them confident enough to venture off on their own, receive higher education, and become contributing members of society.

“[What] we want to do is create a safe home, a safe place where they could have a deep sense of belonging and a deep sense of community and just kind of like a real family,” said Woolger.