Que­bec sees surge in asy­lum seek­ers

Prov­ince deal­ing with 150 asy­lum re­quests a day: im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

The scene greet­ing asy­lum seek­ers at a pop­u­lar il­le­gal bor­der cross­ing point in Que­bec on Thurs­day was vastly changed from that of a few months ear­lier.

What used to be an un­marked ditch mon­i­tored by one or two RCMP pa­trol cars had turned into a makeshift re­cep­tion cen­tre in re­sponse to the surg­ing num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing the bor­der at Hemmingford in the last two weeks.

Fold­ing chairs and bot­tles of wa­ter were avail­able for bor­der crossers in a large white tent as they waited to board a bus to be taken for pro­cess­ing.

Metal bar­ri­cades kept the me­dia at bay as five or six RCMP of­fi­cers waited to ar­rest new ar­rivals cross­ing into Que­bec from New York.

RCMP Const. Erique Gasse said any sus­pected crim­i­nals would be taken to a de­ten­tion cen­tre, al­though the bulk of new­com­ers are sent to the La­colle bor­der to file refugee claims.

“Our of­fi­cers are do­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary job in the field,’’ he said in a phone interview. “They’re pa­tient, they’re pro­fes­sional, they’re Cana­dian po­lice of­fi­cers just do­ing their jobs.’’

At a Montreal news con­fer­ence, Que­bec’s im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter said the num­ber of peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum in the prov­ince has tripled in the last two weeks.

While there were roughly 50 re­quests a day be­tween July 1 and July 19, Kath­leen Weil said the num­ber has since surged to 150 a day.

She said Que­bec had al­ready re­ceived 6,500 asy­lum seek­ers by the end of June and is on track to have 12,000 by the end of the year.

Weil said the rate of new ar­rivals is putting a lot of pres­sure on tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion re­sources, which are needed while the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment de­cides whether each new­comer is el­i­gi­ble to make a refugee claim.

She said the prov­ince has asked Ot­tawa for help in deal­ing with the vol­ume of new ar­rivals but ul­ti­mately will be able to han­dle the claims.

“We have a strong, com­pe­tent and ex­pe­ri­enced pub­lic and com­mu­nity net­work to deal with this type of sit­u­a­tion and will of­fer dig­ni­fied and safe care for th­ese peo­ple dur­ing the pro­cess­ing of their asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions,’’ she said.

Que­bec Premier Philippe Couil­lard asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to speed up the claims eval­u­a­tion process, be­cause most of the cost of car­ing for the new­com­ers cur­rently falls to the prov­ince.

“The re­quest we have for the fed­eral (gov­ern­ment) is to ac­cel­er­ate the treat­ment of cases to the max­i­mum so that we can quickly know if their (asy­lum) re­quest is ac­cepted or not so we can bet­ter share ex­penses,’’ he said in He­bertville-Sta­tion, about 200 kilo­me­tres north of Que­bec City.

His com­ments came a day af­ter asy­lum seek­ers be­gan ar­riv­ing at Montreal’s Olympic Sta­dium, which has been set up to ac­com­mo­date as many as 600 peo­ple un­til Sept. 19.

Pub­lic Health Min­is­ter Lu­cie Charlebois said the cost of re­tool­ing the sta­dium as a shel­ter and of added se­cu­rity is $1.5 mil­lion. The fa­cil­ity is just one of sev­eral tem­po­rary sites around the city hous­ing 1,575 asy­lum seek­ers as of Thurs­day.

“It’s not a sit­u­a­tion that’s meant to be per­ma­nent,’’ she said, adding the gov­ern­ment would re­assess next month should the surge not sub­side.

Most of those ar­riv­ing at the sta­dium are of Haitian de­scent.

That’s be­cause the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing end­ing a pro­gram that granted Haitians so-called “tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus’’ fol­low­ing the mas­sive earth­quake that struck in 2010.


Montreal mayor De­nis Coderre, bottom right, greets newly-ar­rived asy­lum seek­ers at a re­cep­tion area at the Olympic Sta­dium, in Montreal on Thurs­day.

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