As the unprecedented flow of asylum seekers crossing the U.S. border into Quebec continues, Premier Philippe Couillard took to social media Friday to reassure the public.
In the week from August 1 to 7, more than 1, 700 people illegally crossed the American border into Canada at Lacolle.
In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Couillard attempted to outline his government’s approach to dealing with the current influx, saying Quebec had a duty to treat the new arrivals with dignity and compassion.
He also clarified that the newcomers are not “migrants,” or “illegal immigrants,” but refugee claimants, and as such are entitled to due process.
“They are governed by very well-defined laws and procedures, under the responsibility of the federal authorities,” Couillard said, adding the provincial government is collaborating with Ottawa for the provision of certain services.
Earlier in the week, Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader François Legault — also taking to Facebook — criticized Couillard’s government for its “open-arm approach,” and “irresponsible political discourse.”
“He is sending the wrong message to illegal migrants, as if Quebec could welcome all the misery in the world,” Legault said.
Couillard countered that there are no guarantees the applicants will be granted refugee status, but acknowledged the situation at hand was complex.
“It is unfortunate that these very vulnerable people were convinced that admission as a refugee in Canada and at home in Quebec would be simple, even automatic. It is not so,” Couillard’s statement reads.
“There is no guarantee that asylum applications will be accepted, given the strict rules that govern them.”
Couillard also said that public safety is a top priority.
“As soon as they cross the border, they are intercepted, identified by the police, and then taken to a temporary accommodation site,” he said. “Safety and public health checks are also made without compromise.”
WATCH BELOW: Asylum seekers in Quebec
Most of the new arrivals at the border are Haitians who fear they will soon be expelled from the United States.
Haitians living in the U.S. were granted temporary protection status following the devastating 2010 earthquake, but that expires next January.
In 2016, out of 412 refugee claims made by Haitians in Quebec, only 207 were accepted.
— With files from the Canadian Press