RCMP intercepted over 20,000 asylum seekers in 2017

An asylum seeker shows his passport to an RCMP officer as crosses the border into Canada from the United States, Aug. 21, 2017 near Champlain, N.Y.
An asylum seeker shows his passport to an RCMP officer as crosses the border into Canada from the United States, Aug. 21, 2017 near Champlain, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The RCMP intercepted a grand total of 20,593 asylum seekers crossing into Canada last year between legal border checkpoints, newly released numbers reveal.

On Friday, Citizenship and Immigration Canada released its tally for the number of interceptions in December – which came in at 1,978— finally allowing the department to then add up the overall total for the entire year.

The crossings began to make headlines last winter when a few dozen people made their way across frozen fields in Manitoba, some suffering severe frostbite in the process. By the summer, the number of irregular crossings had soared — particularly in Quebec — where hundreds streamed across each day and were promptly arrested.

READ MORE: Over 1,600 asylum seekers intercepted at the border in November

The Safe Third Country Agreement meant that if they had come through a legal border checkpoint between Canada and the U.S., most would have been sent back. The government has faced repeated calls to close what critics call a loophole in the agreement, but it remains unchanged.

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It’s unclear how many of the people who crossed illegally have subsequently received approval to make an asylum claim.

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A significant backlog developed in processing the applications, but government officials have said that among the thousands of Haitian nationals who came to Canada last year hoping to claim asylum, less than 10 per cent have been approved to move ahead with those claims.

It’s also unclear how many of the asylum seekers may have been deported, however, or how many may have left Canada voluntarily. Thousands received work permits that allowed them to secure employment while they waited for a decision.

Largest influx in decades

Once asylum claims made inland or at legal border crossing are also factored in, the total number of asylum claims made in Canada in 2017 stood at 49,775.

That’s the highest total seen in at least two decades.

READ MORE: Asylum seekers get health-care benefits first, eligibility questions later

In comparison, there were 37,845 claimants in the year 2000, and in 2008, there were 36,920. The highest volume before last year came in 2001, with a total of 44,695 asylum claimants.

The year with the lowest number of claims since the dawn of the millennium was 2013, with 10,380.

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Bracing for 2018

While 2017 may have been a big year for asylum seekers coming to Canada, 2018 may prove equally challenging for border officials and the Immigration and Refugee Board, which determines who is eligible to make a claim.

The United States will, starting this summer, begin lifting the temporary protection status currently enjoyed by over 300,000 foreign nationals living on U.S. soil.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen have both maintained that Canada is prepared for a possible fresh influx of people and is taking a “whole of government” approach.

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs have continued to travel to the United States this winter to meet with diaspora communities affected by the TPS lifts and to explain the realities of seeking asylum in Canada.

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-With files from Amy Minsky

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