B.C. feels impact of proposed U.S. travel ban as refugees cross over, often illegally

Click to play video: 'Refugees walking across B.C. border in fear of U.S. crackdown'
Refugees walking across B.C. border in fear of U.S. crackdown
WATCH: B.C. is now seeing the impact of the US crackdown on immigrants. There’s been a sharp increase in the number of refugees crossing the border into B.C. from Washington state — all seeking asylum in Canada. And as Tanya Beja reports, experts say this could just be the start of the influx north of the border – Feb 13, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban has led to a jump in the number of people crossing into B.C. and seeking refugee status.

Protesters gathered at the Peace Arch border crossing Sunday to show their continued displeasure with Trump’s executive order, which among other restrictions aims to halt indefinitely the flow of refugees into the United States.

Although the order has been stalled by the courts, the protesters on Sunday said Canada needs to make specific moves towards helping those who may be affected by a crackdown.

“Just saying we will welcome immigrants is not enough,” protest organizer Jean-Michel Oblette said. “We need to take actions and take a position on what is happening in the U.S.”

Specifically at issue is a treaty between Canada and the U.S. known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was signed in December 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and took effect two years later.

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Under the agreement, a person looking to claim refugee status must do so in the first country they land in, rather than, for example, arriving in the U.S. and then attempt to cross into Canada looking to claim refugee status at the border.

Because of the treaty, Canada is now seeing an increase of refugees crossing from the U.S. into Canada illegally, because they can usually bypass the Safe Third Country Agreement if they avoid a border crossing and then seek out an immigration officer once in Canada.

Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East and the NDP immigration critic who was at Sunday’s demonstration, says the solution to this influx of illegal border crossings is simple: make it safer for refugees to enter Canada without prejudice.

“Canada should immediately suspend Safe Third Country,” Kwan said. “We can’t consider the U.S. a safe place for refugees.

“We need to take action,” she added. “In 2017 we can’t support any democratic country with measures that are discriminatory in nature.”

Byron Cruz, of the refugee and migrant support network Sanctuary Health Collective, says he is working with at least seven refugees who crossed into B.C. on foot over the last two weeks, and says this is likely just the beginning.

“The situation started about a month before Trump came to power, and it’s gotten worse in the last few weeks,” Cruz said.

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“We are expecting the number of people to increase in the next few months, and we are getting lots of phone calls, and we are telling these people that Canada is not necessarily safe,” Cruz added, explaining that because immigration laws have remained largely unchanged from Stephen Harper’s administration, it’s still extremely difficult for those going through proper border crossing procedures to be admitted.

On Saturday, a Syrian family braved the snow and trudged into Quebec, while nearly two dozen people have been reported crossing into Manitoba.

Sunday’s demonstrators called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise the Safe Third Country Agreement and similar immigration issues with Trump when the two have their first formal meeting on Monday.

— With files from Tanya Beja

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