FCJ Refugee Centre is committed to continue supporting refugees in Canada
Born in El Salvador, Francisco came to Canada in 1990 with Loly, his wife, and their two children. Soon after their arrival, their third child was born. Formally trained as a lawyer and economist, Francisco has been committed to issues of social justice for as long as he can remember. Starting with work in human rights in El Salvador, then solidarity work in Europe, and now work in the field of Refugee Rights in Canada. He is past president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, and has been recognized for his work with the William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award of the City of Toronto and the YMCA Peace Medallion. Below is the transcript of an interview with Francisco at FCJ Refugee Centre.
Q- Could you please introduce yourself?
A: My name is Francisco Rico-Martinez, Co-director of FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto Canada. We have two co-directors in the office, one is me and the other one is Loly. What we do is try to manage the office and give direction to what the office needs to do, and allocate the time and the resources. The focus is to support refugee claimants and non-status people who arrive in Canada and who want to regularize themselves here, so we have a lot of work to do.
Q- What does it mean to you, “working with uprooted people?”
A: I am one of them. For me it is not work, it is a life style. I owe a lot to people who helped me at the beginning of my life, so I also want to help people in need. They are not able to do it alone, and the system is very complicated for refugees. It is a good idea that they are able to find a place where they can relax, make a joke, release their stress, and then move forward. Here they find a place where they feel welcomed.
Q- How you do you evaluate the FCJ Refugee Centre’s work in 2017?
A: Well, 2017 was a very difficult year for FCJ Refugee Centre for two reasons. First, the financial support of the organization was not clear, making for some difficulties, but we were able to overcome them. Secondly, by the end of the year we were able to secure more resources. During 2017 many refugee claimants and non-status people arrived in Canada. The statistics of newcomers increased from almost 30,000 to more than 45,000 and the majority of them were here in Toronto. So we were not ready and we were facing a lack of resources, but we managed with the help of many volunteers, students placements, law students, and the support of many foundations, Government and the City of Toronto to keep the door open.
Q- What are FCJ’s main achievements in 2017?
A: We had three main achievements in 2017. We never said the door is closed for refugees. If someone was referred to us and we could not find a shelter in the city, we housed them here. We housed them in the best conditions, and they don’t sleep on the street and that has been an achievement. Secondly, even with the increase of applications of immigrants and refugees with the same few staff, through volunteers and law students and our own experience, we managed to respond to everyone that came to us. The third is that we are creating more awareness about different levels of government. For instance, for the first time the Provincial Government opened funding for refugee claimants which they did not do before, which we think was somewhat due to our advocacy and lobbying the City MPPs. We are also receiving resources from the City in order to keep the door open to receive refugees. Additionally, we also made people aware of the situation that was happening and how we as an organization is responding to this crisis.
Q- Could you please tell me about your goal for 2018?
A: We have not one goal but many goals. One, to keep the level of operation that we are managing now. Two, to expand our work. Now we are working more and more with temporary workers, seasonal workers. We will work with survivors of trafficking with youth, women, care givers and all of those sectors. Another one is to try to improve the conditions of the houses for refugee women. We are going to request resources and try to renovate and keep the houses in good condition. The other goal is that people continue leaving the office with something in their hands.
Q- What will be the office priority for 2018?
A: The priorities are youth and women but these are linked to all other areas of our work in terms of our legal departments. Our priorities are to do as many applications as we can but also to be sensitive to the needs of women and youth and children in our houses. The other program we have is popular education. Our goal in the long term is to try to create a gender immigration Centre, focusing on gender because we don’t have that in Canada.
Q- What are the challenges for the FCJ in 2018?
I think the main challenge is the self-care of staff members. We are all living with a lot of stress. People are coming and there are a lot of things to do. Staff won’t have time to take care of themselves and that could damage the health of our staff. So we need to create more space for them to recover themselves. We are going to do more self-awareness training. We want to have more meetings to build the community we have.
Q- Could you please explain a case that impacted you the most?
A: The most important case for me was that with the help of the Centre we managed to open the door with York University to enable youth with precarious migration status to attend the University, paying domestic fees. Because for me it was so sad to see the wasting of the lives of young persons who couldn’t continue their education. This has been one of the biggest successes that we have had so far. We are going to knock on the doors of other universities and will talk with the government of Ontario and explain the issue, asking them to help us to fix it.
Q-What is your message for FCJ partners and those who are working for people on the move?
A: The work we do is impossible without their support. We have very few staff. Our work is only possible if we can manage to get the support of our partners and we need them in order to continue the work that we do for refugees.