Migrants are being misled about Canada's immigration policy
Published Monday, August 7, 2017 6:26PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 7, 2017 6:58PM EDT
Members of Montreal's Haitian community believe that migrants are coming to Canada because they've been misled on social media.
Each day dozens of people are crossing the border from the United States and walking straight into the arms of Canadian police officers, then being whisked away to begin the application process for refugee status.
Because of the swell in applications, the basic background check that people must go through is now taking up to two months -- when it used to be completed in 72 hours.
That's also why a third shelter has opened in the city. Migrants are not allowed to leave Montreal until their background check is complete.
Many of the migrants are originally from Haiti -- and they're learning swiftly that most of them will not be allowed to stay.
Radio host Vladimir Gelin is urging Montreal's Haitian community to come to the rescue of refugee claimants from the U.S., saying he understood why people would not want to return to Haiti.
"Haiti is a country on a sawtooth, up and down, up and down," said Gelin.
The country's problems came long before the devastating 2010 earthquake, but that tragedy was the reason so tens of thousands of people left for the U.S. and Canada.
The U.S. granted Haitian refugees special visas that were due to expire earlier this year but have been extended for several months.
Due to fears the visas will not be extended again, many are fleeing to Canada, with Marjorie Villefranche of the Maison d'Haiti saying that many are hearing -- incorrectly -- on social media that Canada has lax immigration and refugee rules.
"I saw a lot of people telling them that it's very easy to come here, so you just cross the border and you know you'll be safe an everything will be all right for you," said Villefranche.
Much to their dismay, many refugees are now learning that Canada ended its program granting special status to Haitian refugees last year.
"They will be safe, that's true, but they will not be all right because they have to go through a process," said Villefranche.
Immigrant lawyer Richard Neil Goldman said those waiting in shelters -- like the one set up at the Olympic Stadium -- have to go through basic background checks before being released.
"Coming to Canada, putting your feet inside the border gives you the right to be heard, to tell your story. It doesn't mean your story will be accepted," said Goldman.
He said there are many reasons for a person to be rejected, including having "a very serious criminal record or having already a refugee status in another country like France or Germany or something like that."
Goldman said that background check used to take 72 hours, but because of the increase in applications that first stage examination is now taking up to two months.
The refugee status hearing comes later, but with the background check completed people can send their children to school, get basic healthcare and a work permit.
About half of refugee claimants are accepted and permitted to remain, with the rest being sent deported. It's a chance many are willing to take.
"When you leave everything and arrive here with your suitcase, you must be desperate," said Villefranche.
Gelin pointed out that most of the applicants have no interest in taking advantage of the system.
"What they want is to work and support their family," said Gelin.
"The jobs that you and I won't take, as Canadians, they're ready to do at minimum wage."