Canada is facing an “unprecedented” number of asylum seekers who have crossed the border from the United States, officials said.
“We’ve never seen those numbers,” said Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spokesman Claude Castonguay. “Even though our officers are patrolling 24 hours a day all year long, we’ve never seen such numbers coming in.”
RCMP intercepted almost 7,000 asylum seekers in the last six weeks in Quebec.
Officials stressed that the influx can be handled and at no time has the security of the country been compromised.
But they cautioned that while Canada remains an open, welcoming country, crossing into it is not “a ticket for permanent residence.”
“Coming to Canada, asking for asylum in Canada is not a guarantee for permanent residence in Canada,” said Louis Dumas, spokesman for the immigration ministry in a Thursday press conference.
About 80 to 85% of the asylum seekers are of Haitian descent, according to RCMP.
The number of people intercepted in Quebec has soared in recent months from 781 in June and 2,996 in July to 3,800 as of August 15, according to RCMP.
Dispelling misleading information
Officials also tried to clear up misinformation spreading through social media and WhatsApp that claimed Canada is inviting people to claim asylum, reported CNN’s partner CBC.
“It is not a message from the government of Canada,” Dumas said. “Strict processes are in place for all people claiming asylum, regardless of how they enter into Canada.”
He said 50% of Haitians who requested asylum in 2016 had their claims rejected.
Quebec’s premier Philippe Couillard had posted on his Facebook last week that it was a “very delicate situation.”
“It is unfortunate that these very vulnerable people were convinced that admission as a refugee in Canada and here in Quebec would be simple, even automatic. That’s not the case at all. There is no guarantee that asylum applications will be accepted, given the strict rules that govern them.”
Why Haitians are leaving the US
Many Haitians have headed to Canada over concerns that they’ll lose their temporary protected status or TPS, in the US.
Shortly after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Obama administration granted Haitian immigrants — who had already been living in the US — with temporary protected status.
The program allowed them to work and shielded them from deportation. It also provided them temporary refuge considering that Haiti had suffered one of the deadliest earthquakes in history, and the country was seen as too unstable for people to return.
The program had since been repeatedly renewed. But earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security officials said conditions in Haiti were improving since the earthquake — and that the program could be terminated next year.
DHS officials urged Haitian recipients to prepare for the program’s potential expiration in January 2018.
This has sent a wave of Haitians across the northern border. Many of them have expressed concerns they’ll be deported if they stay in the US.
But Canada ended its version of a program that was similar to the TPS for Haitians last year, the CBC reported. This means Haitians without status can be deported from Canada.
Many asylum seekers have headed for Quebec where Montreal has a large Haitian community.
Amid the influx, asylum seekers are being sheltered at Olympic Stadium, where Montreal had hosted the summer games in 1976.
Taking their chances
Experts have cautioned that it’s not so easy to meet government requirements under Canadian asylum laws. They have said the fear of deportation from the United States isn’t enough to make an asylum case in Canada. The process of making a case through the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada can take months and end in rejection.
But hundreds of people are taking their chances.
In the border town of Champlain, New York, taxis arrive continuously as asylum seekers haul their belongings and help their children cross into Canada.
Just footsteps away, the Canadian Border Services Agency have sent up tents where officers process the new arrivals, reported CNN affiliate WPTZ. The number of people arriving has created a bottleneck at the border with more than 1,000 people waiting to be processed, according to the RCMP.
As of July, Canada processed 21,695 refugee claimants, according to government figures. It’s already 90% of the total number that officials registered last year.
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