An emergency session to address the refugee “crisis” was called for in response to an influx of asylum seekers who are entering Canada from the United States via unofficial border crossings. Rather than entering at official border crossing booths, thousand of asylum seekers each month are opting for entering the country using unofficial “dirt roads” along the border.
According to data released by the Canadian government, in 2017 over 50,000 asylum seekers were processed, which includes people who entered the country both officially and unofficially. So far, in the first part of 2018, over 7,600 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada.
The majority of these refugees are entering Canada illegally via unwatched areas of the border, taking advantage of a loophole in the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement.
Asylum seekers who try to enter Canada at legal border crossings can be turned away due to the agreement, which allows refusal of entry when the asylum seekers already have arrived in the other “safe” country. Per the agreement, the asylum seekers must make their claim for refugee status in the ﬁrst “safe country” they reach – either Canada or the United States.
While the agreement essentially allows Canada to send asylum seekers back to the United States when they attempt to enter at official crossings, those who cross into the country through unofficial routes are unable to be turned away.
Instead, these refugees are provided with shelter, food and healthcare services. As more and more asylum seekers make use of the loophole in the agreement, an increasing strain is being placed on the government agencies caring for these people. There is especially a shortage of housing for refugees in Montreal and Toronto.
As is, the current third country agreement is seemingly encouraging illegal crossings into Canada. The NDP and the Conservatives are both supporting the call to address the issue but are coming at it from opposite angles. The NDP have called for the meeting “to discuss the lack of support” for the asylum seekers while the Conservatives want to review the government’s response to the “border crisis.”
While Canada has over sixty government programs overseeing legal immigration, according to Toronto immigration lawyer Ronen Kurzfeld who handles refugee status and immigration issues, the pressing issue of the refugees has no clear or easy solutions. Nevertheless, it must be dealt with as the lives of thousands of people are hanging in the balance.