Montreal’s Big O made temporary shelter after sudden influx of asylum seekers at border
Crossings at Quebec border have skyrocketed this year
Montreal’s iconic Olympic Stadium will be the first place some newcomers to Canada call home, with the venue being used as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers.
The first groups were bused to the stadium on Wednesday as Quebec continues to manage a recent influx of people entering the province from the United States.
Volunteers from the Quebec Red Cross helped set up the cavernous facility for a temporary stay with cots and food in the rotunda.
Francine Dupuis, who oversees a Quebec government-funded program that helps asylum seekers get on their feet, said the numbers are not what they’re used to handling.
The stadium was just a temporary solution to deal with the sudden increase and will only be used for a couple of months, she said.
“We were using hotels and it’s too many places to manage with too few rooms,” Dupuis said. “And there aren’t so many places that can accommodate 300 people like this.”
Dupuis said with as many as 100 people coming in daily, she has been hunting for secondary spots to house people.
“We need to take all the offers that are being made to us.”
According to recent federal government data, figures for June suggested a “pronounced shift” in the number of people arriving in Canada at the Quebec-U.S. border.
Nationally, the RCMP intercepted 884 people who crossed into Canada at regular ports of entry in June, up from 742 the month before. Of those, 781 were caught in Quebec.
Overall, Quebec has accounted for 3,350 of the 4,345 people who have crossed into Canada this year, as of late June.
Many of those arriving Wednesday were of Haitian descent.
In the United States, the Trump administration is considering ending a program that granted Haitians so-called “temporary protected status” following the massive earthquake that struck in 2010.
If the program isn’t extended, as many as 60,000 Haitians could be sent back to their homeland.
Dupuis said she’s been told many plan to move on to Ontario, but others who speak only Creole may take advantage of Montreal’s large Haitian population.
Guillaume Andre, a Montreal community worker, said he’s helped some people who have arrived previously from the United States.
“Some of them have parents here, friends here, who can help them,” said Andre, one of several Haitian-Montrealers who welcomed the new arrivals at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
“We’re here to see how we, too, can provide help to them.”
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, an outspoken critic of the U.S. administration’s immigration policies, went on Twitter to welcome Haitian arrivals and tell them they can count on the city.
Coderre later tweeted that, according to his own sources, there were 2,500 new arrivals in Quebec via the United States in July, with as many as 500 currently held at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, at the Quebec-New York State border.