Montreal's Olympic Stadium used as shelter for asylum seekers
Published Wednesday, August 2, 2017 12:55PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 2, 2017 9:31PM EDT
A Montreal stadium that once hosted Olympic athletes from around the globe is being transformed into a temporary shelter for a new surge of people who illegally crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec.
About 150 cots have been set up in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to accommodate the asylum seekers.
Busloads of men, women and children were brought to the sports complex on Wednesday, where volunteers from the Quebec Red Cross laid out food inside the rotunda. Washroom facilities and showers have also been made available.
It’s the first time the Olympic Stadium has been used to house asylum seekers.
Many of the newcomers are Haitians who’ve fled the U.S. over fears that they’ll be deported when an Obama-era policy that granted them temporary protected status after the devastating 2010 earthquake expires in January.
As many as 60,000 Haitians could be forced out of the U.S. if the program is not extended into 2018.
But many of the asylum seekers in Montreal no longer have homes to return to, says Guillaume Andre from the multi-ethnic community centre of Montreal North.
“These people have nothing in Haiti. They lost everything,” Andre told CTV Montreal.
Canada has already seen a major influx of illegal asylum seekers this year, and the Quebec border has been the most popular crossing point.
Of 4,345 people who crossed the U.S.-Canada border between January and late June, 3,350 -- or 77 per cent -- entered into Quebec.
And those figures appear to be rising. The RCMP said they intercepted 781 people who crossed into Quebec in June, compared to 576 the previous month.
One man who crossed into Canada last week after spending two years in the U.S. told CTV Montreal he was happy to make the move.
“I feel very good to be in Canada,” he said.
Montreal mayor blames Trump
The stadium was chosen as an option because Montreal’s shelters are already full. It took three days to prepare the venue.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre offered a warm welcome to the newcomers on Twitter and described the influx as a “consequence” of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Encore une conséquence de la politique d'immigration de Donald Trump #RefugiesHaitiens— DenisCoderre (@DenisCoderre) August 2, 2017
Coderre added that, according to his sources, there were 2,500 new arrivals in Quebec from the U.S. in July. As many as 500 of those are currently held at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle at the Quebec-New York State border, Coderre said.
Many of the newcomers plan to move to Ontario, but those who speak Creole may stay in Montreal to reestablish themselves in the city’s large Haitian population, according to Francine Dupuis, who runs a program funded by Quebec that helps asylum seekers.
Dupuis said the stadium has made a big difference for her organization’s efforts.
"We were using hotels and it's too many places to manage with too few rooms," Dupuis said. "And there aren't so many places that can accommodate 300 people like this."
Last request for shelter was 19 years ago
Those asked about the temporary shelter praised efforts to help the asylum seekers.
“Let’s help people. Why not?” one man told CTV Montreal.
“It shows the world how Canadians are always there for everyone,” a woman said. “So I think it’s a very, very human thing to do.”
Jean-Philippe Guillaume, a member of Montreal’s Haitian-Canadian community, said he’s “feeling happy that Canada approved them and tried to help them get a better life.”
An update on the situation is expected Thursday from Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil and Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois.
The last time there was a request for the Olympic Stadium to be used as a temporary shelter was after the destructive ice storm of 1998, which killed 35 people and wiped out power grids across southeastern Canada. In the end, the stadium was never used.
With files from CTV Montreal and The Canadian Press