Fleeing north: Why asylum seekers are crossing the U.S.-Canada border
Published Friday, February 17, 2017 9:54PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 18, 2017 11:53AM EST
Braving bitter winter weather, asylum seekers are illegally crossing the Canada-U.S. border in growing numbers.
WHY ARE PEOPLE ILLEGALLY CROSSING THE BORDER INTO CANADA?
U.S. President Donald Trump’s much-maligned executive order barring travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, as well as his temporary cessation of the country’s refugee program, has stoked fears that further immigration restrictions are on the horizon.
Although the travel ban was later rejected by a U.S. federal appeals court, Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and a growing push to round-up illegal immigrants in the U.S. means that asylum seekers’ fears have not been allayed by America’s judiciary. Facing possible future deportations, many are now trusting expensive human smugglers to bring them north to Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s welcoming overtures to immigrants and refugees stands in stark contrast to his American counterpart’s harsh stance.
WHERE ARE THEY CROSSING?
The most illegal border crossings appear to have occurred in Quebec and Manitoba. British Columbia and the Yukon have also experienced an influx of asylum seekers.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE CROSSED?
According to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), there were 7,022 land border crossings by asylum seekers in 2016, up from 4,407 in 2015. Quebec and Manitoba have seen the largest increases. The number of refugee claimants in Quebec, for example, hit 593 in December while there were 452 in January -- up from 74 in Dec. 2014. In Manitoba, 403 were recorded in 2016, up from 252 in 2015. At least 82 people have illegally crossed into Manitoba since Jan.1.
CAN THEY LEGALLY CLAIM ASYLUM IN CANADA?
It depends. The Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement, which was signed in 2002, requires people to apply for refugee status in the first safe country they arrive in. Any refugee claimant entering Canada at an official border crossing with the U.S., which is the only country that Canada has designated as a safe third country under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is supposed to be turned away unless they have a blood relative in the country. People who illegally sneak into Canada at unregulated crossings, however, will generally have their asylum cases heard. Because the Safe Third Country Agreement encourages dangerous illegal border crossings, there have been calls for Ottawa to revoke the U.S.’ “safe third country” status. The federal government, however, has expressed no interest in doing this.
WHAT’S THE RISK?
Asylum seekers are often ill-prepared for the freezing winter weather they experience during their trips north. Two Ghanaian men who illegally entered Manitoba in December, for example, lost parts of their hands to the extreme frostbite they suffered during their journey. Once in Canada, moreover, there are no firm guarantees that a refugee’s claim will be accepted.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY ENTER CANADA?
Refugee claimants who illegally enter the country are generally detained by police until criminal background checks are completed. After that, they meet with CBSA officers for several hours before being released. They are then given 15 days to file a refugee claim. Hearings with the Immigration and Refugee Board are then held within three to four months.
As they wait for their hearings, asylum seekers are eligible for legal aid and social assistance. While they can apply for work permits, that process can take three to four months. It should be noted that Canada’s procedures stand in stark contrast to the U.S., where refugee claimants spend months in detention centres.
With files from CTV Montreal, CTV Winnipeg and The Canadian Press