TORONTO - Two Peruvian migrant workers who survived a horrific crash that killed 11 people in southern Ontario said Tuesday they hope to stay in Canada even if they never recover enough from their injuries to go back to work.
Juan Ariza and Javier Abelardo Alba-Medina were among 13 poultry farm workers in a van that drove through a stop sign and into the path of a truck in the rural community of Hampstead, northeast of Stratford, on Feb. 6.
Ten workers from the van and the truck driver were killed in one of the province's deadliest collisions.
Speaking Tuesday with the help of an interpreter, Ariza and Alba-Medina said they are still undergoing treatment for their injuries and worry about their fate once their visas run out, particularly if they remain unable to work.
"It worries me a lot," Ariza, whose visa expires in February of next year, said in Spanish.
"In the state that we find ourselves in, we would be a burden to our families, our country."
Alba-Medina said they haven't heard from federal officials regarding their immigration status, but advocacy groups are providing legal support to help them navigate the system.
His visa won't run out until February 2014, but he said the thought of leaving is disheartening.
"We've fought so hard to overcome all these struggles and then to go back to our country only to have all the little opportunities we've worked so hard to accomplish through rehabilitation taken away from us because of the circumstances surrounding injured workers like us back home," he said through the interpreter.
The pair's health-care expenses have been covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board through Ontario's health insurance.
But workers' rights advocates said it's common for those benefits to be cut off once workers are sent back to their country, even though they may still be unable to work.
Chris Ramsaroop of the group Justicia For Migrant Workers said many workers who come in through the federal Temporary Foreign Workers program are shipped back to their homeland after receiving only a minimum of care.
The group is calling for changes to the program to protect the tens of thousands of migrant workers brought into Canada each year.
More than 110,000 workers have come in through the program so far this year, according to the latest figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.