As temperatures rise, so too does pressure on the government to address rising numbers of asylum-seekers crossing the US-Canada border.
The RCMP intercepted more than 3,000 irregular border-crossers in January and February 2018, part of a total number of 7,800 asylum seekers processed by the federal Immigration Department and the Canada Border Services Agency during the same time period. On Easter weekend 600 people crossed the border.
Last summer, MIREMS reported on the increase in cross-border asylum-seekers and what the ethnic media was saying to inform, encourage and discourage this migration.
“Uncertainty over the TPS and rumours circulating in the US that Canada would accept Haitians with open arms, meant Canada saw the highest number of asylum seekers in years—5,712—cross the Canada-United Stated border in August. Canada’s ethnic media was part of the conversation.”
MIREMS looked at stories published by our sources between April 4 and April 19 covering cross-border migration. These sources are keeping close tabs on the situation.
The majority of 2018’s migrants are Nigerian and Lok Awaaz in Edmonton reports that this suggests “word-of-mouth about Canada as a safe haven for asylum seekers has continued to spread despite Canadian efforts to counter it.” (12/04/2018).
The Chinese source 51.ca quoted American refugee lawyer Stephanie Handfield saying that “many refugees in the US feel that if they can find a way to set foot on Canadian soil, and then fill out a refugee claim form, they can settle permanently in Canada.”
This is a common thought, and it comes from the loophole in the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement which prevents people arriving from the US to claim asylum protection at an official Canadian port of entry. Though once on Canadian soil, a person can claim asylum protection. That’s the incentive for making illegal crossings.
An article in Chinese Readers says "Trudeau’s 'Canada welcomes you' message gives refuges the illusion they will have a good life in Canada, and adds that only 10 percent of refugee claims are approved; the success rate is very low” (08/04/2018) which is incorrect. In 2013 the acceptance rate was at 43 percent, and rose to 70 percent in the first nine months of 2017, falling to 54 percent by November of 2017.
A main issue is the backlog of applications, though the Liberal government has committed $74 million to address this with the Immigration and Refugee Board, as well as cutting work-permit wait times for asylum seekers from three months to three weeks and issued more than 12,000 work permits to asylum seekers in Quebec.
Conservative critics are saying it's not enough. According to a motion put forward this week by Conservative MP and immigration critic Michelle Rempel, a tweet from the Prime Minster in January 2017 is partly to blame for the “crisis created by the influx of thousands of illegal border crossers.”
A headline from Bharat Times in Montreal is shares this criticism saying “Justin Trudeau is failing to manage illegal border crossings.” (06/04/2018).
The motion from the conservative government is also pressuring the Liberals to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. An article by the Chinese BCbay.com in Vancouver quoted Jane Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, who says “refugees who pay large amounts of money to enter Canada only to find out they've been lied to by the scammers when they're filling out the refugee claim. Dench said that if the Safe Third Country agreement was suspended, refugees would be less vulnerable to scammers.” (08/04/2018)
There’s also pressure from Quebec. The overwhelmed and nearly infamous border crossing at Roxham Road, has resulted in a plan to move asylum-seekers to Ontario—if that’s their preferred destination.
Chinese source Dawa Business Press in Vancouver reported that “Quebec has yet to receive a formal response from the federal government for the reimbursement of claimants who flocked to the province over the past year, and has asked IRCC to expedite the review process of the refugee claims as there has been a severe backlog,” (07/04/2018) and Canadian Tamil Broadcasting Corp. reported that Montreal is reluctant to use the Olympic stadium for refugees this summer. “Magda Popeanu, vice-chair of the City's executive committee, says that they welcome the asylum seekers and are prepared to provide alternative accommodation for them.” (07/04/2018).
The 600 asylum-seekers who arrived over Easter weekend raised concerns across the country. Warmer weather and continued uncertainty in the United States could mean Canada is on track to see record breaking numbers like we did last August: 5,712 refugee claimants, an 82 percent jump up from July.
Gui Ding wrote for Sinoquebec Chinese Newspaper asking if the Canada-US border can remain peaceful. Noting the differences in Trudeau and Trumps attitudes, the author suggests there might be a need for both Canadian and American troops along the border, saying “Trudeau is more friendly to Middle East refugees, and it is possible that there will be terrorists among the refugees that Canada is planning to take from Israel, which could pose potential security threats to the US.” (06/04/2018).
Press Secretary to Immigration Minster Ahmed Hussen, Mathieu Genest was quoted widely in the ethnic media saying “Canada is an open and welcoming country to those in need of protection, but our government is committed to orderly migration to protect Canadians and our immigration system. Our government is prepared for any future fluctuations.”
As uncertainty surrounding immigration continues south of the border, the pressure to adequately handle asylum-seeking migrants will continue. Canada's ethnic media provides a first hand look at how communities are responding to these pressures.
Written by Caora McKenna
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