Back in January, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his liberal savior complex in full view, announced that Canada would take in all refugees who are refused entry to the US.
“To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”
Six months later, some Canadians are starting to question that decision as the country's resources are stretched to the limit by an unprecedented wave of refugees seeking asylum.
As we’ve reported previously, a crush of migrants hoping to seek refugee status in the US have instead traveled north to Canada, fearing arrest – or worse, deportation – following the November election of President Donald Trump. Thanks to the flow of thousands of migrants from Central and South America flowing across the Canadian border, 2017 is expected to see the highest number of asylum seekers applying for asylum since 2011.
The crush of migrants has already overwhelmed Canada’s legal system, leaving many in an uncomfortable legal limbo.
Now, a wave of Haitian asylum-seekers are occupying most of the spare shelter space in a city where temperatures regularly fall below, as one supervisor at a government-funded aid program told the Montreal Gazette.
“Francine Dupuis, who oversees PRAIDA, a government-funded program to help seekers get on their feet in Quebec, said the number of refugee claimants is unprecedented.
Following a recent wave of Syrian refugees, most are now Haitians fleeing the United States for fear their temporary resident status will be revoked and hoping to find refuge in Montreal’s large Haitian community.
‘It’s unheard of,’ Dupuis said. ‘In 30 years, I’ve never seen this kind of volume or intensity.’
Dupuis said about 90 per cent of asylum seekers coming into Quebec now are Haitian. In July, PRAIDA received 1,200 new requests for refugees, nearly four times more than an average month.
‘We’re doing our best, but obviously there’s going to be a limit. And we’re close to that limit.’”
According to Dupuis, an “increasing wave” of Haitian refugee claimants forced officials to open a temporary shelter in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium Wednesday as they scramble to keep up with an influx they fear shows no signs of slowing. Many of them are Haitians fleeing the US after Trump threatened in May to remove the temporary protected status granted to nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the country following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
Figures compiled by the Canadian Border Services Agency show Quebec has become Canada’s main entry point from the US. Of the 4,345 people who either sought asylum at the border or were intercepted by police in the first six months of 2017, 3,350 were recorded in Quebec.
Unsurprisingly, local officials haven’t hesitated to blame Trump for the overflow.
“In a series of tweets, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre welcomed the refugees and called the situation “another consequence” of Trump’s immigration politics. In a statement, Coderre said he had a “constructive conversation” with Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil about the influx of refugees.
Because Montreal became a sanctuary city in February (we’re not sure how that differentiates it from every other city in Canada), asylum seekers have access to the city’s municipal services. Through programs like PRAIDA, the city will also help them find emergency housing, hosting them in empty schools, rehab centers, hotels and YMCAs while helping them with the required paperwork. In addition to housing, PRAIDA offers medical, nursing and psychosocial services to asylum seekers.
The agency recently reached out to the Olympic Stadium to see if it’d be willing to shelter some of the incoming migrants. Officials quickly agreed, and began prepping the space for 150 people.
“Olympic Stadium spokesperson Cédric Essiminy said officials were approached on Friday about hosting refugees for the next couple of months. As of Wednesday, the stadium had 150 beds set up in a communal space in its western hall, where caregivers will be using a nearby concession stand to prepare and distribute food.
Refugees will also have access to 20 showers in an unused team locker room. The space can accommodate up to 450 beds. Hosting the refugees will not affect any of the stadium’s activities, Essiminy added.”
With large, public spaces nearly tapped out, the government of Quebec will need to make some difficult choices.
“But I don’t think anybody has the answers,” Dupuis said. “Nobody knows when it’s going to stop. At one point, I think the government will have to make a decision - do we continue to receive them, and if we do, where are the resources going to come from?”
Maybe Trudeau will swoop in with more federal aid. However, since the refugees are Haitian not Syria, and therefore won’t attract swarms of adulating press coverage like the prime minister received in January, we wonder: Will this register as a priority? Or will Quebec soon start turning away asylum seekers at the border?