Many among the flood of asylum seekers arriving in Quebec over the past few weeks are Haitians fleeing the U.S., where President Donald Trump and his administration appear poised to strip status from those who have fled devastating natural disasters and a cholera outbreak.
The spike in would-be refugees to Quebec is overwhelming the province to the point that officials opened Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to help temporarily shelter those arriving.
This wave of asylum-seekers, which started swelling late last month, is just the latest in a year in which Canada has been grappling with increases in the number of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border by foot, at unguarded points.
The spike in numbers
Between July 1 and 19, Quebec was receiving roughly 50 asylum requests per day, Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said Thursday.
That number has surged to 150 claims per day, sometimes even more.
Francine Dupuis, who heads Quebec’s government-funded program to help asylum seekers, this week said her organization helped 448 people in June, and 1,174 in July — far more than the numbers the organization is accustomed to handling.
WATCH: Asylum seeker dies attempting to cross into Canada: police
Federal data released two weeks ago indicated yet another month-over-month increase of RCMP interceptions of asylum seekers entering Canada at unofficial crossing points along the border, particularly in Quebec.
In June, the RCMP intercepted 884 people across the country, up from 742 the month before. Of those caught in June, 781 were caught in Quebec.
Overall, Quebec has accounted for 3,350 of the 4,345 people who have crossed irregularly into Canada since January, according to the federal data.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, meanwhile, has said that according to his own sources, there were 2,500 new arrivals in Quebec via the United States in July, with as many as 500 currently being held at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, at the Quebec-New York state border.
Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the union representing Canada Border Services Agency border guards, said 500 people crossed irregularly this past Tuesday, while he and a colleague visited Roxham Road in Hemmingford, a popular crossing for asylum seekers since last November.
Why are they coming over?
Many of the border hoppers are Haitians – 90 per cent, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Since Haitians began arriving in the U.S., the government there has afforded them a temporary status that’s been updated every 18 months.
In May, however, the Trump administration recommended ending that temporary protected status for the more-than-50,000 Haitians living there currently. Those refugees were subsequently given a six-month extension, framed as a period during which they should prepare “for their return to Haiti in the event Haiti’s designation is not extended again.”
WATCH: Winnipeg refugee resettlement program explains how it’s helping asylum seekers
Do they have a better chance in Canada?
Canada has a general image of a welcoming country, whose prime minister has personally welcomed refugees with open arms.
However, Haitians who came to Canada, rather than the U.S., following the 2010 earthquake have already been subject to deportation for almost three years.
Canada’s moratorium on deporting Haitian refugees was lifted Dec. 1, 2014 with special measures included for those eligible to file an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
And while anyone can try to claim asylum in Canada, there’s no guarantee they’ll be accepted. Despite the spikes in this particular type of asylum claimant, the government hasn’t said whether it will adjust its targets for 2017.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told Global News the minister is now in consultations for the 2018 levels, which have to be made public by Nov. 1. The spokesperson didn’t provide an answer when asked whether the 2017 numbers would be adjusted.
Still, Montreal’s mayor, an outspoken critic of Trump’s immigration policies, has welcomed the new Haitian arrivals and assured them they can count on the city.
— With a file from The Canadian Press and the Associated Press