Advocates say migrants must be welcomed by Quebec, not sent to other provinces

CBC News

CBC News · Posted: Feb 21, 2023

Migrants crossing from New York into Quebec at Roxham Road should not be seen as a burden, according to the executive director of a Montreal-based non-profit organization that offers support to refugee claimants.

"What if some of these asylum seekers coming in have family here? What if they do speak French? Wouldn't you want them as part of our workforce?" Dina Souleiman asked.

She heads the Welcome Collective which, on its website, says they believe "it is a moral imperative for us to go beyond the immediate humanitarian care of the refugee claimants who come to our communities."

So she's among those questioning Premier François Legault's Monday letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking that all migrants coming in at Roxham Road, an irregular border crossing, be redirected to other provinces.

Legault says in the letter that Quebec's resources are stretched thin and that the province simply has no space left to care for undocumented migrants.

But Abdulla Daoud, the executive director at the Refugee Centre in Montreal, says the problem isn't the volume of migrants but instead the delay in processing applications at the federal level.

He is calling instead for the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement to be abolished.     

The 20-year-old agreement recognizes both countries as safe for migrants and states that refugee claimants are required to request asylum in the first country they arrive in. That means Canadian border officials would send back to the U.S. any would-be refugee claimants arriving at an official border crossing from the U.S. into Canada.

Daoud said it's either that or officials must start processing applications and issuing open work permits on the spot at the irregular border.

Otherwise, migrants waiting for landing documents can't begin thriving here by getting a place to live, a job and access to services, he said.

"If we were to move them throughout Canada, the issues would be the same. Community organizations would feel overwhelmed no matter where they are because the bureaucratic system has put them in a very precarious situation," said Daoud.

Niagara region overwhelmed

The federal government has been moving migrants from Quebec to Ontario's Niagara region since July, and last week a community organizer there said services are getting stretched thin.

Deanna D'Elia, the general manager of employment and immigrant services at the YMCA of Niagara, described the situation as "an unexpected surge. It's hundreds in Niagara right now."

Adrienne Jugley, the commissioner of community services for the Niagara region, said the number of asylum seekers staying in hotels rented by the federal government increased progressively toward the end of the year.

Before Christmas, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada  (IRCC) was renting more than 600 rooms in the region. Jugley said she was recently notified that IRCC plans to increase that to more than 1,500 rooms "imminently."

That dramatic increase has "certainly raised concerns about our local resources' ability to respond,'' Jugley said last Thursday.

However, the Quebec government says there's nothing more that can be done locally.

In his letter, which was written in French, the premier called for all asylum seekers to be redirected to other parts of the country, "regardless of their profile."

He described the current situation as "untenable."

Quebec can't handle more, Legault says

According to Legault, the number of crossings by asylum seekers — mostly through Roxham Road — "exploded" in 2022 with roughly 39,000 irregular entries.

That's 42 per cent of all asylum seekers received in Canada in 2022. That's in addition to the some 20,000 regular entries. 

"Quebec has taken on a completely disproportionate share of Canada's asylum seekers," the letter reads. "This influx cannot continue. Quebec's capacity to receive refugees has been exceeded."

The Quebec government says the capacity of both the province's public services and the community organizations that provide direct support to refugee claimants have been stretched beyond their limits.

As a result, Legault says it is now more difficult to provide humane, adequate accommodation and services to asylum seekers who are "struggling to find adequate housing and increasingly becoming homeless."

Last week, Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette did say the province's message was finally getting through, as more migrants entering the country through Roxham Road were being sent to Ontario and other provinces.