A few days ago, it seemed as if Canada was on the verge of a state of emergency. According to media reports, the local Olympic Stadium was to be temporarily turned into an interim camp because the city of Montreal was not able to accommodate such a large number of asylum seekers. The stadium seats 56,000 spectators.
In actual fact, 150 provisional beds are available in the tunnels of the stadium, with the possibility of increasing the capacity to 450. A state of emergency is nowhere to be seen. But the symbolism alone is enough to unsettle some Canadians. The country is considered to be open, but it is also picky when it comes to immigration. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre welcomed the new arrivals via Twitter, but could not resist a quip that the whole thing was “another consequence of Donald Trump’s immigration policy gone wrong.”
This will be an ongoing issue for the country. Currently, each day, about 150 asylum seekers reach the province of Quebec, where Montreal is located. That is how many people arrived last year in the span of one month. Since the beginning of the Trump era, the number of newcomers entering Canada via the country border from U.S. states such as New York, Maine and Vermont continues to rise.
When the U.S. government wanted to impose a travel ban on Muslims, many Syrians and Somalis in the U.S. headed north in the middle of winter. Currently, however, it is mainly Haitians with temporary protected status in the United States who are coming to Canada. After the island’s 2010 earthquake, the previous U.S. administration deferred the deportation of Haitians who were in the country illegally. The Trump administration has now clearly indicated that it intends to discontinue the program, starting in January 2018. Consequently, 58,000 people will be threatened by deportation in one fell swoop. The first wave of Haitians to be affected by this change is being drawn to Montreal because of its large Haitian diaspora.
The increasing hostility that many of the undocumented immigrants in the United States are now sensing plays another role. “There’s no end to the badmouthing of immigrants in the United States, it’s become untenable,” the Globe and Mail reported, quoting one Haitian who went North from Boston. “I had to do something.” False information that went viral on messaging apps, according to which Canada would take in Haitians with temporary protected status without further examination, gave rise to the emerging mini-exodus.
At the same time, it is unlikely that they will be granted asylum in Canada. The hurdles for recognition are high, and the country ended its own temporary status program last year which had allowed Haitians to remain in Canada temporarily. Anyone reporting at an official port of entry is usually sent straight back to the U.S. An agreement between the U.S. and Canada recognizes both countries as safe third countries. Refugee claimants are required to file their claims in the first country they set foot in.
18,000 Asylum Claims in Canada This Year Alone
That is why many people enter the country via the country border, where the Canadian government has just set up new registration centers. The government is hereby attempting to open its doors to refugees from the U.S without risking diplomatic disagreements. An examination of all newcomers at official ports of entry would not only attract more people from the south, but would in effect demonstrate that the Canadian government no longer recognizes the U.S. as a safe third country. If, on the other hand, asylum seekers were sent back at the country border, anyone who might deserve to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds would also be rejected – and this would be considered “un-Canadian.”
This year alone, more than 18,000 people have filed refugee claims in Canada, which is equivalent to three-quarters of the total number of claims in 2016, and the Canadian government expects this number to rise even further in the coming years.
Similar developments are also currently happening south of the U.S. The Mexican government is expecting 20,000 refugee claims this year – twice as many as last year and almost six times as many as in 2015. The Trump administration’s tough anti-immigration stance has imposed deportations and detentions even on those who have lived in the U.S. for many years.
The Instability in the ‘Northern Triangle’ Is Not Going To Disappear Quickly
What Trump and his followers consider a big success has left Latino communities in the United States uncertain and has caused labor shortages for farmers from California to Wisconsin. People from the “northern triangle” of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which used to make up the bulk of illegal new arrivals, are now afraid to travel north. Human smugglers demand ever greater amounts of money to cover the increased risk.
Therefore, many of them stay in Mexico to file their refugee claim instead, often citing the dominance of gangs in their home countries. Resettling in a country that itself has massive problems with cartels and violence in some regions is only part of the challenge they face. Officially, the United States’ neighbor to the south has a relatively generous asylum system, but in practice it is usually strict. There are no settlement programs for refugees, nor protection from exploitation or crime. According to statistics, only one percent of offenses committed against migrants result in a judicial sentencing. It is still unclear when the issue of asylum seekers will start to create tension in Mexico. After all, Mexicans themselves often work in the low-wage sector and compete with the new arrivals.
The instability in the “northern triangle” is not going to disappear quickly. That is why the organization Doctors Without Borders recently called on Canada to allow more immigrants from Central America into the country. But neither the northern nor the southern neighbors are interested in replacing the U.S. as the prime destination for immigrants who are usually poorly educated. Compared to Europe, the pressure is still manageable, but in the coming year, the U.S. government is going to decide whether to extend temporary protected status for 257,000 refugees from Honduras and El Salvador. Should Trump’s Department of Homeland Security revoke their residence permits, the next wave of migration is sure to hit.
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