Trickle of refugees flee­ing U.S. could be­come a spring del­uge

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ALAN FREE­MAN The Wash­ing­ton Post

As des­per­ate asylum seekers con­tinue to flee the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion crack­down by cross­ing into Canada, con­cern is grow­ing here over whether the coun­try will be able to cope if the num­ber of mi­grants keeps grow­ing.

Stories of mi­grants haul­ing chil­dren and suit­cases across frozen fields and snow-cov­ered ditches into Canada have be­come head­line news. The asylum seekers, who are flee­ing United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s travel and refugee bans as well as stepped-up ar­rests of un­doc­u­mented immigrants, have re­ceived warm wel­comes. But op­po­si­tion politi­cians are crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­ern­ment of Justin Trudeau for be­ing too harsh or too lax in its ap­proach.

In a re­cent survey from the An­gus Reid In­sti­tute, a Van­cou­ver-based opin­ion re­search firm, most Cana­di­ans were sup­port­ive of the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to main­tain its tar­get of ac­cept­ing 40,000 refugees in 2017. But 25 per cent wanted to see Ot­tawa en­act a travel ban sim­i­lar to the Trump or­der.

In an­swer to a sep­a­rate ques­tion, 40 per cent said they think Canada is ac­cept­ing too many refugees. The num­ber of refugee claims has spiked since the elec­tion of Trump. On the Que­bec bor­der with the United States alone, there were 452 claims in Jan­uary com­pared with 137 in the same month a year ago.

And with so many mi­grants will­ing to traipse through the ice and snow to reach Canada, there are con­cerns that num­bers could soar with the ad­vent of spring. “Will we be fac­ing down our own mini-Greece or mini-Italy mo­ment? What are we go­ing to see when the snow melts?” Kurl asks.

Jenny Kwan, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for the left-lean­ing New Demo­cratic Party, wants Ot­tawa to with­draw from its Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment with the United States. That pact states that an in­di­vid­ual ar­riv­ing at an of­fi­cial Cana­dian bor­der point from the United States isn’t al­lowed to make a refugee claim, an ef­fort to avoid “asylum shop­ping.” But if an asylum seeker crosses into Canada ir­reg­u­larly — as the cur­rent wave of mi­grants is — and then calls the po­lice, he or she can make a claim legally.

“We need to stand up for hu­man rights,” she told The Wash­ing­ton Post.

But the Con­ser­va­tive party says the Trudeau gov­ern­ment isn’t do­ing enough to pro­tect “the in­tegrity of our bor­der,” said Con­ser­va­tive MP Michelle Rem­pel. She wants the gov­ern­ment to make it clear that cross­ing the bor­der out­side of­fi­cial cross­ings is “illegal and un­safe” and to take fur­ther ac­tion if the sit­u­a­tion de­te­ri­o­rates.

“I have this feel­ing that we’re go­ing to see big num­bers com­ing across once the weather gets bet­ter,” said Greg Janzen, the reeve — the equiv­a­lent of a mayor — of Emer­son, Man., a small town on the bor­der with North Dakota that has seen grow­ing num­bers of asylum seekers.

The ar­rivals were once sim­ply a week­end phe­nom­e­non, but refugees are now turn­ing up on a daily ba­sis.

“We had six this morn­ing,” Janzen said Wed­nes­day. “I think they walked up to the ho­tel. They kept them in the lobby un­til the RCMP came.”

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