Canadians officials launch Nigerian outreach to stem border jumpers
Amanda Coletta, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Monday, May 7, 2018 9:40AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 7, 2018 9:09PM EDT
The government announced new measures Monday to deal with the steady stream of asylum seekers who are crossing the border illegally into Canada from the United States, including an outreach mission in Nigeria.
An estimated 2,500 people crossed in April. The majority are from Nigeria.
The government also issued a warning.
“Coming across the border in a way that seeks to circumvent our procedures is no free ticket to Canada,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who was joined at a press conference in Montreal by Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.
“All Canadian laws are and will continue to be enforced and all of our international obligations are and will continue to be respected,” he added.
The announcement comes at a time of mounting pressure from the federal Conservatives, Quebec’s Liberal government and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
Quebec’s immigration minister said that more than 6,000 people entered Quebec irregularly from January to mid-April of this year—three times as many as during the same period in 2017. He expected the number to increase significantly as the weather warms during the summer.
In Toronto, Mayor John Tory said last month that number of asylum seekers in city shelters had grown from 459 in 2016 to 2,351, and his city needs more funds to deal with the situation.
The majority of these asylum seekers are Nigerians with recently issued U.S. visitor visas. Hussen says they see the United States as merely a transit point on the way to their actual destination: Canada.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, enacted since 2004, those seeking asylum must do so in the country where they first arrived. This prohibits people coming from the United States from seeking asylum at an official port of entry in Canada like a land border crossing or airport.
But there is a loophole: it does not apply at illegitimate border crossings, meaning Canada has to process the asylum claims of people making irregular crossings.
The government announced that Hussen will be travelling to Nigeria this month for discussions with officials, and said that three Canadian officials have already been sent to Lagos to work with American visa officials.
The federal government announced last week that it would be building temporary housing for up to 520 people at the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing in Quebec, where the RCMP says it has intercepted most of the migrants.
Michelle Rempel, the Conservative party’s immigration critic, called the new measures “a Band-Aid approach.”
“We’re on track to have 50,000 people illegally cross from the United States and claim asylum this year,” Rempel told CTV’s Power Play.
“Why is this a problem?” she added. “Because their claims won’t likely be heard for years. They’re having expedited work permits. In fact, over 12,500 people who illegally entered the country have had work permits given to them this year. We’ve got mayors calling for more resources because homeless shelters are at capacity ... I’m concerned that Canadians are watching the government’s inability to secure our borders and say, ‘Why are we having immigration to begin with?’ And that is not the debate we want to have.”
“New Canadians who are having their applications languish for family reunification because they’re having to redirect resources,” Rempel claimed.
The solution, according to Rempel, is to declare the entire Canada-U.S. an official port of entry, so that Canada can turn back asylum seekers who try to cross.
New Democrat Alexandre Boulerice said the solution is to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, which would allow refugees to make claims at official ports of entry, like airports.
He disagreed with Rempel’s characterization of the migrants as “illegal.” While the act of crossing the unmanned border is illegal, Boulerice points out that the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees entitles those already inside the country to a refugee hearing.
“Of course it’s an irregular way to enter the country, but we have responsibilities,” he said.
“Those people are not abusers, they are not criminals, they are refugees who are trying to have a better life for themselves and their families,” Boulerice added.
Hussen said that, while it is “always wise and prudent to look at ways to refresh the agreement,” he is not having anything more than “regular discussions” with his American counterparts about modifying the agreement.
Goodale told Parliament last week that Canada is in “exploratory” talks with the United States to re-open the agreement.
The government says that it has speeded up the processing of work permits for asylum seekers as they await a decision on their asylum applications.
Hussen said he expects the government’s backlog of asylum cases will be eliminated by 2019.
Earlier this year, it said that it would also be setting up a “triage system” in Quebec to ask asylum seekers where in Canada they are ultimately hoping to stay, in order to ease pressure on the province.
Goodale said that officials from Ontario, which is expected to be the preferred destination of many of these migrants, met with their counterparts in Quebec last week to look at ways that they can better prepare for the influx of arrivals.
In the 2018 federal budget, the federal government pledged $173.2 million for border security, which will be used, in part, to hire new Immigration and Refugee Board officials to speed up the wait times for an asylum hearing.