Quebec asks for federal help as number of asylum-seekers spikes
MONTREAL -- The Quebec government says it is facing the prospect of even more asylum seekers entering the province from the United States this year and wants the federal government to come up with a plan to deal with the influx.
The number so far this year has tripled to 6,074 from about 2,000 during the same period in 2017 and is forecast to increase significantly this summer, Immigration Minister David Heurtel said Monday.
"Even the numbers we're getting from the federal government show us that the situation is different, there's going to be more asylum seekers, so we need a new plan," he said.
Heurtel said projections suggest there will be up to 400 crossings a day this summer, compared to 250 in 2017.
He noted that the ball is in Ottawa's court and that he will meet with federal officials Wednesday to discuss the matter.
The province said in addition to front-line services, there are other costs like health care and education that are stretched thin.
"This is not about money, this is about saying that Quebec can do its part, but our resources are completely saturated and we can't do more," Heurtel said.
Quebec is maintaining its request for additional funds to cover $146 million in unprecedented expenses from last year irregular border crossers, with this year's price tag yet to come.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said he is awaiting a detailed proposal from Quebec.
"We're waiting for Quebec to provide us concrete proposals on what they want us to do," he said in Ottawa.
"And we haven't received that yet. And we haven't received the proposals that we need to receive in order to find out exactly what more Quebec wants us to do."
Heurtel noted 25,000 asylum seekers entered Quebec through legal and illegal means in 2017, accounting for 50 per cent of all asylum cases in Canada.
Several senior Quebec ministers joined Heurtel to announce the province has only 1,850 spots for asylum seekers in Montreal and that more than 70 per cent of the places are already occupied.
When that number hits 85 per cent, Quebec will no longer place any illegal crossers in any of the four temporary shelters in the city in order to leave room for people who enter the province by regular means.
Heurtel said asylum seekers this year are coming from various countries and, based on anecdotal evidence, there seems to be an organized system where people land in the United States and immediately head for a popular irregular crossing at Roxham Road along the Quebec-New York border.
Many don't have any interest in staying in Quebec for a long time.
"We've had certain days when we've had people come to our centres and sometimes upwards of 40 per cent say were saying their intent was to go elsewhere in Canada," Heurtel said.
"If an asylum seeker already (says) from the beginning that his final destination is somewhere else in Canada, maybe the federal government should take notice of that and act on it."
Last year, the influx of border crossers was linked to the end of a U.S. government program that granted Haitians so-called "temporary protected status" following the massive earthquake that struck their homeland in 2010.
Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UN Refugee Agency representative in Canada, said 20,000 of the 50,000 who entered Canada last year crossed by irregular means -- the vast majority of them in Quebec.
Meanwhile, 30,000 entered with a proper visa at the border or airport.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Beuze noted that two-thirds of asylum seekers are recognized as refugees.
"Not even one per cent of the people arriving through irregular means in Canada were detained by police on suspicion of criminal activity, which really shows we were facing a situation where people were genuinely coming to Canada to look for a solution to their plight," he said.
"Even if people come in increased numbers over the summer, we are very much confident that with the additional funding, the measures that have been taken over the last nine to 10 months by the authorities at the border, at the immigration offices, Canada is very well equipped to respond."