Over one hundred claims for asylum made daily in Quebec: Immigration Minister
Published Thursday, August 3, 2017 12:15PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 3, 2017 6:17PM EDT
As asylum seekers enter Canada in droves, Quebec and Ottawa are marshalling resources to cope with refugees.
Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said Thursday that up to 150 people are applying for asylum in Quebec daily. In June and July more than 6,000 refugees crossed into Canada via the Quebec border—a figure that comprises 35 per cent of all requests made by asylum-seekers in Canada.
Many of those refugee claimants are originally from Haiti, and have been living in the United States since the 2010 earthquake.
A woman named Bethany told CTV News she entered Canada because her husband had already been deported from the United States.
"It's all because of President Trump," said Bethany.
She and her daughter have been staying at a hotel on Montreal's South Shore for the past two weeks, surrounded by hundreds of other asylum seekers.
But remaining in Canada may be difficult: last year Canada revoked the protected status that it had granted to Haitians in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
Immigration activist Rivka Augenfuld expects many claims will be rejected for that reason.
"Anyone who guarantees they will be accepted is lying to them because you cannot guarantee," said Augenfeld.
Massive group of migrants
The Quebec government said it has handled large influxes of would-be refugees before, and can handle this group of migrants as well.
"We're well-organized, we've got a competent network, we're working in collaboration with all the partners that need to be part of it," said Weil.
"The Quebec government is following the development of this situation closely, and we are working in close collaboration with the Federal government and the various ministries called upon to deploy the necessary resources to provide a secure and optimal experience from the time these people cross the border, to the time their request is treated by the Federal government."
Weil explained that the government increased the amount of staff at the border, as well as creating a triage system to temporarily house refugees.
Refugee claims are not automatically granted, and the Canada Border Services Agency and the Immigration and Refugee Board say they are screening claimants carefully.
Some refugees crossing through Quebec are ultimately hoping to make their way to other provinces, like Ontario, to be with family who are already settled.
“If you read some of the interviews in the newspapers, on television, I’ve noticed several people say ‘I have family in Toronto,’ or ‘I have family here and there,’” Weil explained. “We think [a triage system] will help—it’ll reduce the number somewhat.”
“However, we do know that the largest Haitian community is in Quebec—and notably in Montreal—so we need to work on all fronts,” Weil said.
This priority-based triage system will allow these people to reach those destinations more quickly, as well as lighten the strain on Quebec border officials, who will now be receiving help from federal representatives.
Search for housing
Activist Mazen Houdeib is behind one of the groups working to find long-term housing for the asylum seekers.
"We know in Montreal that many apartments are not decent, not liveable, but our challenge with all partners, including landlodrds, is to qualify decent housing and offer them to people in need," said Houdeib.
Government officials at the border are also exercising a rigorous screening process, including domestic and international criminal background checks, fingerprinting, and photos.
Newly-arrived immigrants from the U.S. are being subjected to health assessments as well, to protect Quebec from potentially infectious illnesses that will spread if not treated.
Once this process is underway and requests for asylum are processed, immigrants will obtain access to resources, like permanent housing and medicare.
In the meantime, ten establishments in the Montreal area are receiving and housing the influx of refugees.
The YMCA, Salvation Army, the site of former hospital Grace d’Art, and the Olympic Stadium are all being used to house families arriving from the United States.
At the Big O, 150 cots were set up Wednesday to welcome busloads of refugee claimants, while an additional 300 beds may be added due to the high demand.
At the Stadium, Haitian families have access to showers, food, bathrooms, lodging, and psychosocial care from specialized interventionists.
Officials are hoping that even the temporary comfort of the shelter can allow the asylum seekers to stabilize their situation and allow them to participate more fully in Quebecois life.
“Our government is committed to offering protection for those fleeing war, persecution, and natural disasters without compromising the safety and security of Canadians,” said Federal Ville Marie MP Marc Miller. “We understand that people will go to extraordinary lengths to seek a safe and peaceful life for themselves and their families.”
To date, over 1500 refugees are housed in shelters throughout the city.
Many of the refugees, including families with young children, are leaving the United States to avoid President Donald Trump’s threat to standing immigration policy and because they do not have the necessary paperwork.
They had been living in the United States under an Obama-era policy that granted them temporary protected status in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. That status was originally scheduled to end this month, but that deadline has been pushed back until January 2018.
If the deadline is not extended again, up to 58,000 Haitian asylum seekers could face deportation.