March 18, 2019 – Canada and the U.S. are in talks about altering the Safe Third Country Agreement, which many believe helps motivate asylum seekers to cross at unrecognized border points.
The bilateral agreement means that an asylum seeker has to claim refugee status in the first ‘safe’ country at which they arrive.
It means that asylum seekers arriving in the U.S. are not allowed to cross into Canada to claim refugee status.
If they try to cross into Canada from the U.S. at recognized border points, they are turned back.
However, they are allowed to claim refugee status if they have already made it to Canada, which is why more than 40,000 have crossed at irregular border points as they try to flee Donald Trump’s U.S. immigration crackdown.
Numbers of irregular border crossers have dropped in 2019. After more than 1,000 made the journey in every month of 2018, peaking at 2,560 in April, both January (888) and February (808) saw significantly lower numbers of RCMP interceptions.
Source: Government of Canada
Canada Border Security Minister Bill Blair has revealed discussions are taking place with the U.S. on how to close the loophole.
He said: “There are ways, we believe, that we could apply the agreement more broadly to those people and therefore disincentivize them from crossing irregularly.
“There has been some discussion about how we might apply the agreement to those who present themselves at a place other than the border where there’s clear evidence that they’ve come from the United States, that they were in a place that was, in fact, a safe third country, or if they’ve made application in the United States and they have legal travel documents in the United States.”
Figures show 19,419 asylum seekers were intercepted in 2018, compared to 20,593 in 2017.
Canada’s asylum system is now choked to the point where claimants are waiting two years to have their cases heard.
The Immigration and Refugee Board, which hears asylum cases, has 64,000 claims awaiting a decision. Nearly 35,000 of these claims are from irregular border crossers from the U.S.
In a federal election year, the opposition Conservatives are painting the situation as a crisis, while Liberal officials say they are confident the issue can be dealt with via increased resources for the IRB.
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The influx of irregular border crossers began in summer 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump first threatened the Temporary Protected Status of thousands of Central and South Americans.
July and August 2017 saw the most irregular border crossers in the last two years, with 3,134 and 5,712 respectively crossing the border at unrecognized points.
Trump has continually said he would end TPS status for specific nationality groups. TPS is given to people from countries affected by war or environmental disasters, as part of a program established in the 1990s.
The overwhelming majority of those crossing the border have flooded into Quebec, where provincial officials have called on the federal government to pick up the bill for expenditure related to the issue.
The federal government is spreading those that arrive out across Canada to try and ease the burden on the French-speaking province.
However, out of the 19,419 who arrived in 2018, 18,518, or 95 per cent, came into Quebec, mainly via crossing point at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
Government efforts to tackle the problem have centred around an information campaign.
The central message is that there is no guarantee of being allowed to stay in Canada for those crossing the border
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