Skip to main content

The number of asylum seekers at the Montreal airport has quintupled since 2019, data shows

Despite Canada's efforts to slow the stream of asylum seekers across its borders, refugee claims in the country have only risen.

The phenomenon is no better illustrated than at the Montreal airport, where the number of asylum seekers attempting entry has exploded five-fold since 2019.

The last few weeks have been especially busy, data from Canada's border authority reveals.

Between Sept. 1 and 18, border agents at the Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport (YUL) processed 2,053 asylum seekers, for an average of 114 a day.

It's a significant uptick compared to September 2022, when 1,450 asylum seekers were logged. The influx becomes even more dramatic when we look at numbers from September 2019, when just 397 asylum seekers were serviced at YUL.

Part of the issue could boil down to changes in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., experts say.

The nearly 20-year-old pact requires asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first of the two countries they land in. The agreement is designed to manage the flow of claimants in North America, grounded in the belief that both Canada and the U.S. are safe for refugees.

In March, lawmakers closed the long-standing loophole in the agreement that allowed asylum seekers to pass freely between Canada and the U.S. at unofficial border crossings, such as Roxham Road in Lacolle, Que.

The Safe Third Country Agreement now applies to the length of the nation's borders, whether at official ports of entry or not.

This change stemmed the flow of refugee claimants in Canada -- but not for long.

According to director Abdulla Daoud, The Refugee Centre in Montreal is busier than ever.

"June, we really felt it. It was pretty much the same numbers coming into our office as, you know, peak Roxham Road days. July was even more and August was even more. We've never been this busy," he told CTV News.

Immigration lawyer Stéphanie Valois said the agreement could partially explain the crowds at Montreal's airport.

"There might be a link," said Valois, president of Quebec's association for immigration lawyers, the AQAADI. For example, she said many claimants are still coming from Mexico, perhaps flying here directly instead of passing through the U.S.

But the biggest shift in migration appears to be demographic, she said.

"To arrive in Canada via the airport, people need to have a visa. And, therefore, what we see is that the countries of arrival are different," Valois explained.

In a statement to CTV News, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it's "seen an increase in the number of asylum applications in recent weeks," mostly from Mexico, India, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria.


According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a record estimated 10 million people were forcibly displaced in 2022 due to persecution, conflict and violence.

Roxham Road or no Roxham Road, experts agree that the worldwide demand for refuge is likely a key factor in the surge of asylum seekers coming through Montreal's airport.

"We've never had this many displaced people in our history of mankind, basically, this is the reality of the world," said Daoud.

In many ways, the air travel aspect is just a sign of our times, he added.

"Now that global migration is more accessible, with globalization, people are able to fly in and people are able to drive in, all these different things. It's only inevitable that we're going to reach this number."

In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada wrote that the number of "irregular arrivals" in Canada, i.e. at crossings like Roxham, "has significantly declined since we expanded the application of the Safe Third Country Agreement in March 2023."

"However, claims made in other modes have risen, particularly those making a claim upon entry at Air Ports of Entry, which began rising in 2022 when travel restrictions were lifted," the statement continued.

But the Montreal airport isn't equipped to deal with this reality, according to management.

"YUL International Montreal-Trudeau Airport is not suited to receive and manage a large number of asylum seekers daily in its infrastructure nor should it be its mandate," said Eric Forest, spokesperson for Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), which oversees YUL.

Both Daoud and Valois agree that Canada must invest more in the infrastructure of its borders, rather than focus on deterring asylum seekers.

"I think that the authorities of Canada need to understand this is going to continue to happen. We need to find long-term solutions, it cannot just be a short-term solution all the time," said Valois. "So there will continue to be refugees at the airport, all the airports of Canada, and I think the CBSA needs to be prepared for this." Top Stories

Stay Connected