By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) – The influx of asylum seekers that threw Canada’s refugee system into disarray slowed in June after also falling in May, the first two-month decline since the wave ramped up last year, according to preliminary figures from government officials and border agents.
The decrease could ease pressure on agencies aiding refugees and on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which has come under fire for its management of the asylum seeker issue.
The number of people illegally crossing the Canada-U.S. border to claim asylum in Canada dropped to 1,869 in May, down about 27 percent from the prior month, according to the Immigration and Refugee Ministry.
Official figures for June are due out mid-month but a spokesman for Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen confirmed they have dropped again, defying expectations that warmer weather would lead to more people walking across the world’s longest undefended border.
Refugee claimants and lawyers in Canada and Nigeria said the drop may be due in part to a U.S. crackdown on Nigerian travelers at Canada’s request. One Lagos-based lawyer told Reuters U.S. visa officials are being more stringent with visas, adding that he has gotten calls from Nigerians who were turned back at airports despite having valid travel documents.
Since January 2017, more than 30,000 people have come over the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims in Canada, many of them telling Reuters they crossed because they did not feel safe pursuing refugee claims in President Donald Trump’s United States.(Graphics: https://tmsnrt.rs/2FHLRFk)
Over the past month, an average of about 40 asylum seekers a day have been crossing at Roxham Road in Quebec, where the vast majority of border-crossers enter Canada. That is down from as high as 200 a day, according to Jean-Pierre Fortin, a spokesman for the union representing Canada’s Border Services Agency who got the figures from his members’ counts. According to government figures, the daily April average was 85.
The number of new clients at Quebec’s government refugee agency that helps with food and housing more than halved between April and June, to just over 1,000 people last month – the lowest point since June 2017, according to the agency’s data.
Canada and the United States have an agreement under which asylum seekers who try to cross at formal ports of entry are turned around and told to apply in the first country they arrived in. People have crossed illegally between those formal crossings, where the agreement does not apply. Once in Canada they have a right to file refugee claims.
Canada has tried to stem the tide of border-crossers, including working with U.S. officials to block Nigerians, who comprised about a third of border-crossers this year, from getting U.S. visas. Ottawa has also encouraged U.S. customs agents to turn back people with valid travel documents lest they continue on to Canada to file refugee claims.
“They’re interdicting people at airports, pulling people from flights, not just in Nigeria but even as they land in the United States, and that work is jointly being done by Canada,” Hussen told reporters on May 31. His office did not confirm this week whether that cooperation is ongoing.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed its cooperation with Canada includes “mitigating travel to the U.S. where possible to avoid secondary movements to Canada” but would not provide details.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)