GORDON: Syrian who entered Canada illegally says “compared to the U.S., it’s five star”

Syrian refugee in Toronto was living safely in Chicago for four year but came to Canada because “he wasn’t given anything from the U.S. government”


A Syrian man staying at a taxpayer-funded hotel in downtown Toronto was living safely in Chicago for four years, but told True North that he came to Canada because “the US is a disaster, they don’t help at all — nothing.” 

The man and his family crossed the border illegally at Roxham Road in rural Quebec and made their way to Toronto, where, according to the man, they now receive “five star” treatment compared to when living in America.

He is staying at the Studio 6 hotel in downtown Toronto.

“They provide everything. It’s good. Compared to U.S., it’s five star,” he says of the hotel, which offers refugee claimants cleaning services, telephone, WiFi, cable, laundry machines and a monthly food allowance of $600 for his family. Hotel units also include kitchenettes.  

Refugee claimants mill in and out of Studio 6 hotel on a freezing Wednesday afternoon picking up their children from an elementary school less than a block away. 

“It’s the worst scenario… I mean, imagine, asking for a co-sign,” says the middle-aged Syrian man outside the hotel entrance smoking a cigarette and braving the minus 18 Celsius temperature without gloves and his coat undone at the top. 

He explains the difficulties of finding a landlord willing to sign an apartment lease to refugee claimants.

“I don’t have. So I have to beg all people from [my] country, and hopefully someone — he have to have good credit and all this, which I have nobody here.”

“The standard is $2,000 [for rent], nothing less,” he says. “To be honest, if I have the chance to live and make some money, I have to be close to [Toronto]. Let’s say I go to London, should I find something there do you think? I’m not going to find nothing.” 

Located in Little Italy, right next to ChinaTown in downtown Toronto, Studio 6 is on a rundown block surrounded by apartment complexes and dilapidated homes. Wander a few blocks in any direction, however, and you’ll find million dollar condos and some of Toronto’s most upscale and posh neighbourhoods. 

This week, the National Bank of Canada put out a report saying it’s now cheaper to rent than buy in major Canadian cities like Toronto for the first time in years. A prime example of the out-of-control real estate prices can be found only 151 lots away from Studio 6, on 14 Grange Avenue, where a “tiny Toronto shack” covered in graffiti just went up for sale at a listing price of $2.5 million. 

A steady stream of newcomers into the city ensures an insatiable demand for housing in Toronto. (Some real estate experts also believe money laundering from China and elsewhere is another contributing factor for the sky high prices in Vancouver and Toronto.)

Before coming to Canada five months ago, the Syrian man, his wife and two young children lived in Chicago for four years after fleeing the civil war ravaging his country and devastating  his former home city of Damascus. In Chicago, the man was an Uber driver but said living there was a constant struggle because they weren’t given anything from the U.S. government. 

Eventually the man decided to take his family and illegally cross the border into Canada through Roxham Road, using the loophole that allows refugee claimant’s to bypass the safe third country agreement, which is supposed to force refugee claimants to make a claim and stay in the first safe country they enter. 

Now, they’re living on the taxpayer’s dime — staying comfortably at the Studio 6 hotel for months at a time. 

“We’re still negotiating an extension to this contact. The contract with the location started March 12, 2018,” says Toronto shelter support spokesperson Greg Seraganian about the deal between Studio 6 and the City, which is set to expire in March. 

Studio 6 management didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The City is currently housing asylum seekers and local homeless in four Toronto hotels and an undisclosed number of motels.

True North reported two weeks ago that the Toronto Plaza Hotel and Radisson Hotel Toronto East were both closed to the public in order to help increase shelter space. 

True North has now learned that North York’s Edward Hotel and downtown’s Studio 6 are also housing Toronto’s homeless and the burgeoning asylum-seeker population. 

According to Studio 6 occupants interviewed by True North, more than half the guests at the hotel are asylum claimants — the majority coming from Nigeria.

“The City has always used motel beds as part of its shelter system,” says Greg Seraganian. 

“More recently, the City added over 2,500 motel beds at its own cost to respond to this increased demand. From 2016 to the end of 2018, the City incurred over $65 million in costs to fund these additional beds.”