With more asylum seekers coming, Quebec says social services at a breaking point
Published Monday, April 16, 2018 12:48PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 16, 2018 6:29PM EDT
A year after masses of asylum seekers began crossing into Quebec from the United States to claim refugee status, Quebec’s immigration minister asked the federal government for $146 million to help process a backlog of requests and prepare for an even bigger influx in the coming year.
At a news conference on Monday, David Heurtel said last year’s wave of asylum seekers resulted in higher than normal costs and put a major tax in the province’s immigration system.
In 2017, 25,000 people made refugee claims in Quebec, 18,000 of which entered the province illegally.
So far in 2018, Heurtel said there have 6,074 asylum seekers, up from 2,000 during the same period last year.
“Even the numbers we’re getting from the federal government show us that the situation is different, there’s going to be more asylum seekers,” he said. “We need a new plan. This is something that’s 100 per cent a federal responsibility. This isn’t about money, this is about Quebec can do its part but our resources are completely saturated.”
Heurtel said it became the province’s responsibility to care for the claimants, even if many were using Quebec as a waypoint to get to Ontario.
He pointed to schools as a social service that has been severely taxed, with 2,000 children of asylum seekers entering the Montreal school system last year.
Also at a breaking point are the province's temporary shelters for migrants. Quebec has 1,850 temporary lodgings spread through four centres in Montreal. Heurtel said the occupancy rate is already at 75 per cent and said he will cap that at 85 per cent to allow for flexibility for asylum seekers who go through regular channels.
While Heurtel didn't say he would close the shelters' doors, he did warn that Ottawa that once his limit is reached, he will inform federal officials there is no more room.
Heurtel said all indicators show there will be more people entering the country this year, with projections showing there could be up to 400 border crossings per day this summer. In 2017, there were 250 crossings per day.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussein said Ottawa has already given Quebec more money for new arrivals.
“We are waiting for Quebec to provide concrete proposals on what they want us to do and we haven't received that yet. We haven't received proposals of what Quebec wants,” he said.
Heurtel plans to meet with federal officials Wednesday to discuss the matter.
- With files from The Canadian Press