Last Updated on September 30, 2017
Canadians are equally divided over whether asylum seekers should be welcomed across the U.S.-Canada border, according to a new poll conducted by Nanos.
Some 37 per cent of people asked said asylum seekers should be welcomed, while exactly the same percentage said the border should be closed, with 26 per cent saying they were unsure.
Quebec has seen more then 12,000 asylum seekers cross the border from the U.S. so far, this year, already passing provincial expectations for the whole of 2017. The province has had to use every available space to house the newcomers, including Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and makeshift army camps set up at the border.
The people behind the poll at Nanos say they have rarely seen such an even divide on any issue among Canadians, prompting the need for a serious debate about border policy. The poll surveyed the opinions of 1,000 Canadians on August 30 and September 1.
Source: Nanos Poll
It was a situation that began with asylum seekers braving the harsh winter in crossing both the Manitoba and Quebec borders. Then, during July and August, it became an almost exclusively Quebec problem, with thousands of Haitians fearing deportation from the U.S. streaming across the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle crossing point.
The motivation for the summer border crossers appears to be a result of misinformation. Donald Trump indicated he would end a U.S. special status program that has allowed Haitians to stay since the 2010 earthquake that destroyed huge parts of the country. The Haitians thought they would get special treatment in Canada, but the program here was wound up in 2016. Since Canada has been able to get that information across, the number of asylum seekers crossing the border has reduced significantly.2
The U.S. affords the same special status for citizens of a further nine countries, namely El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump is set to end special status for citizens of all nine countries, as well as Haiti, which could mean a further stream of people crossing the Canadian border.
Canada knows it needs to get the message out to all of these groups that they will not automatically received residency here. In particular, there are 260,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. who are due to lose their special status in March 2018. Together with the 800,000 left in limbo over Trump’s move to end protection for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and Canada’s need to get the correct information out there becomes even more apparent.
Stream Reduced to A Trickle
The stream of asylum crossing the Quebec border has reduced to a trickle in September, with under 50 per day now arriving after numbers peaked in the several hundreds during July and August.
The government information campaign combined with the start of the school year, is believed to be behind the dramatic reduction in numbers. Parents, no matter what their background, are always reluctant to move their children during the school year. It will also support the argument that the majority of current asylum seekers are in fact economic queue jumpers, seeking a faster entry into Canada.
Government numbers show nearly 7,000 people crossed the Quebec border in July and early August, with 2,700 of them under 18.
Several temporary shelters were set up for newcomers, including one in Cornwall, Ontario, near the Quebec border. Others included Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, an old hospital and a school. A makeshift border camp was also set up by the Canadian army to act as an initial processing centre.
A federal-provincial taskforce was formed in response to the situation, including federal Immigration Minister Hussen, Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weill and Ralph Goodale, federal Minister of Public Safety.
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.
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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