August 18, 2017 – Nearly 7,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Canada border into Quebec since July 1, 2017, showing the extent of the challenge facing the province to process a growing stream of newcomers.
Figures for August have already eclipsed the whole of July, as RCMP officers intercept and arrest hundreds of people a day looking to escape U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.
Official numbers show 3,800 asylum seekers have crossed the border so far in August, compared with 3,000 in July and 781 in June. The number for January was 245, showing how the flow has developed into a wave during the summer months.
Although the numbers show a marked increase, they are low when compared to the migrant crisis facing Europe. Italy received nearly 11,500 asylum seekers in July, down from more than 23,500 in June. Meanwhile, Germany has 250,000 asylum cases pending compared to 21,000 in Canada. Spain and its territories have received nearly 13,000 asylum seekers so far in 2017.
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The vast majority of the newcomers to Canada are Haitian, motivated to escape the U.S. after Trump suggested he would remove the special status afforded citizens of the country following a devastating 2010 earthquake. However, Canada removed that same special status two years ago.
Canada’s 13 consulates across the U.S. have been mobilised to disseminate this information to anyone looking to come here. Asylum seekers, whatever their nationality, will be arrested, facing security screening and then face a hearing, as per the Canada immigration system. Many will not be given refugee status, and face being deported to their home countries.
The latest government shelter for the newcomers will be opened in Cornwall, Ontario, near the Quebec border. This follows other temporary centres at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, plus an old hospital and a school. A makeshift border camp has also been set up by the Canadian army to act as an initial processing centre.
More staff will be taken on in Montreal to help with processing, while a federal-provincial taskforce has been set up including federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weill and Ralph Goodale, federal Minister of Public Safety.
At a press conference on Thursday, August 17, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau described the situation as ‘extraordinary’ but ‘very well-managed’. “There’s no crisis,” Garneau said.
But after months of dealing with a trickle of migrants illegally entering into several of Canada’s provinces, the focus is now full on a flood of asylum seekers crossing the New York-Quebec border.
Critics say opening new centres for asylum seekers will only encourage more to come, and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to blame for giving the perception Canada’s border is open.
Simply the perception that Trump wants to rid the U.S. of illegals and dramatically limit immigration has pushed many to look to Canada for refuge.
Safe Third Country Agreement
There have been several calls for Canada to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which says an asylum seeker must make their claim in the first country to which they arrive. The agreement is the reason why those coming from the U.S. are having to cross the border at remote locations, with the aim of getting arrested and entering the Canadian immigration system.
However, with negotiations currently ongoing for the renegotiation of NAFTA, Canada will not want to do anything to harm its bargaining position.
Meanwhile, if Trudeau decide to do the opposite and stop asylum seekers crossing the border in the first place, the message this would send and pictures it would generate – of Canadian officers turning families away – would not be good for public relations.
It leaves Canada stuck in a kind of limbo, as the flow of asylum seekers gradually increases.
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