Hemmingford holds town meeting to address influx of asylum seekers
Residents from Hemmingford, Que. came to an information session at the local community centre on Sunday to find out how they can help asylum seekers who have been crossing over the nearby U.S. border since January.
The town has been dealing with a significant increase of asylum seekers since the beginning of the year.
It’s putting increased pressure on locals who aren’t sure how to deal with the influx.
Many expressed concern for the well-being of those trying to cross into Canada in frigid temperatures and wondered what they could legally do to help those looking for new homes.
To address the residents’ many questions, the local United Church held a meeting on Sunday afternoon with the RCMP and refugee experts.
“We all have questions, we all want to know what can we do?” said Debbie Beattie of the Hemmingford St-Andrew’s United Church. “And what we can do maybe isn't the right thing to do until we have these people telling us what is going on and how we can help.”
A number of people at the meeting said they’ve become accustomed to pedestrian traffic in their backyard but are worried about the fate of the refugees.
“All the people I see crossing are families,” said Hemmingford resident Helen Gravel. “I’m always asked by journalists, are you afraid of these people? Absolutely not.”
Some wanted to know if it was alright to provide food or clothing to refugees. The RCMP confirmed it’s legal to do so, but emphasized that their first instinct should be to notify the RCMP.
“Our main objective is to make sure that those who do cross are not terrorists and do not have criminal records elsewhere,” said RCMP officer Marcel Pelletier.
Since the Red Cross provides families with the basics they’ll need, anyone wanting to help can make donations directly to the organization.
An increasing number of asylum seekers from the United States are crossing the border illegally into Canada, some resorting to desperate measures to do so.
They have to avoid traditional border crossings, so some go to Plattsburgh, New York, then make their way to Canada at Roxham Rd.
Canada closed the Roxham Rd. border checkpoint in the 1950s. People are supposed to cross at Lacolle, five km to the east, or Hemmingford, six km west.
In recent months RCMP officers and U.S. Border Patrol have been monitoring the dead-end road.
Crossing illegally is a strategic move on the part of those seeking asylum in Canada.
It takes advantage of provisions in the Safe Third Country Agreement, a treaty between Canada and the United States.
Under the terms of the treaty any refugees seeking asylum in either nation must claim protection in the country in which they first arrived.
In essence, asylum seekers who attempt to cross at a border entry point are told by CBSA officers to turn around and ask for refuge in the United States.
However, those who cross into Canada illegally are detained by the RCMP and then begin the process of filing for refugee status in Canada.
The RCMP continues to monitor these unauthorized crossing points. Officers routinely wait near the dead-end road near Hemmingford around the clock, every day of the week.
Things could get more complicated when spring weather arrives because the influx of refugees is expected to increase.