Troops set up tents at border; old Royal Vic to shelter asylum seekers
Canadians soldiers are being deployed to St-Bernard-de-Lacolle to erect tents for asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada from the United States.
Almost 100 troops will be used to set up the camp site, which will consist of "modular tent shelters with lighting and heating and may temporarily accomodate close to 500 people," Department of National Defence spokesperson Evan Koronewski told CTV Montreal in an email.
"The Canadian Armed Forces is aware of the difficult situation that is requiring significant resources of Canada Border Services Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other partners in the area of St-Bernard-de-Lacolle," said Koronewski.
"Assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces was requested to support the civilian authorities of the Government of Canada to temporarily accommodate asylum seekers at the border. With roughly 250 asylum seekers arriving in Montreal from the United States every day, more facilities are being opened to house them."
The tents were necessary because by Wednesday there were 700 people waiting at the border to be processed as refugee claimants, waiting on benches -- on the floor -- to be seen by officials.
On site, Major Yves Debsiens said soldiers are setting up two dozen tents.
"You'll be able to see approximately 25 large military tents here, which will all be equipped with lighting and electricity for heating, and there will also be hard flooring," said Desbiens..
Upon completing setup of the site the majority of the soldiers will return to their base, with the exception of a few who will remain to maintain CAF equipment.
The tents will house those seeking asylum until they are seen by border officials, at which point they will be shipped to shelters in Montreal.
Lieutenant Charlotte Raymond said soldiers are used to helping people overseas.
"It's rewarding to help out people here," said Raymond. "I feel that we're having an impact in our community."
According to Koronewski, the troops will play no role in providing security or law enforcement.
Former Royal Victoria Hospital transformed
On Wednesday, public health officials announced the former site of the Royal Victoria Hospital will be transformed into a shelter with 300 to 320 beds to help house the 2,620 refugee claimants now staying in Montreal.
"We've discussed with the authorities of the MUHC and they're quite prepared to manage these 300 places, which will be a relief for us," said Montreal health authority director Francine Dupuis.
"It's quite complicated to manage these sites. You have to make sure they have three meals a day, that they're safe, they have a shower and toilets. We take care of the children, some women are pregnant. It's quite something."
On Monday, officials announced the Residence Notre-Dame de la Providence, a former home for nuns, would be opened as another shelter for the asylum seekers. The residence will be able to house roughly 300 people.
As many as 900 refugee claimants have been given beds in the Olympic Stadium.
Other locations are being scouted just in case.
"We have to think in advance I agree and we also have to push on these people getting a more permenant place to go," said Dupuis.
Many of those who have arrived are originally from Haiti and fear being sent back to that country should U.S. President Donald Trump end a program that granted them temporary protected status following the massive 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.
A similar program implemented by Canada was revoked last year.
Looking for work
One of those asylum seekers is Adline Tidas.
She was living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and says she paid for a work permit which never arrived.
"There's nothing you can do. Just every time we wake up we say 'God, what can we do?'" said Tidas.
With no help and no prospects in the U.S., she has come to Canada in hopes of getting permission to work.
"I don't come to Canada like I expect the government can help me for all my life. I came because I know I can work, I can go to school. I have a lot of opportunity. If they give me, I can make it," said Tidas.
Because of the unexpected influx of border crossers the time needed for the basic background check performed by immigration officials has grown from a few days to a few months.
So far 174 people have been given permission to leave Montreal and travel to other provinces, or to find another residence in Quebec.