Plan to deal with surge in asylum seekers coming in ‘days and weeks’ ahead: Ottawa

A family, claiming to be from Colombia, gets set to cross the border into Canada from the United States as asylum seekers on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 near Champlain, NY. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The federal government says Canadians will need to wait at least a few days — and possibly longer — for a fully updated plan to deal with a renewed surge in irregular border-crossings.

The number of people crossing between established, legal checkpoints spiked in March and the first two weeks of April, bringing the overall total for crossings between Jan. 1 and April 15, 2018, to 6,373.

WATCH: 400 asylum seekers expected to enter Quebec every day this summer

Click to play video: '400 asylum seekers expected to enter Quebec every day this summer'
400 asylum seekers expected to enter Quebec every day this summer

That’s an increase of 128 per cent over the number who arrived in Canada between January and April of last year.

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As of the end of February, the tally for 2018 stood at just 3,082, meaning more than half of this year’s crossings have happened since March 1.

Quebec, which has seen the vast majority of those crossings, last week asked Ottawa to step in and help, noting that all four of Montreal’s established shelters were full and its financial resources were stretched thin. After a meeting on Wednesday, the province said it was more optimistic that help from Ottawa was on the way.

What exactly that help will look like, however, is still unclear.

READ MORE: Quebec school boards say they’re not ready for new surge of asylum seekers

On Monday, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office said that federal officials continue to liaise with the governments of Quebec and Ontario, and the work is now taking place “at the departmental level.”

Spokesperson Mathieu Genest confirmed a solution won’t be fully in place until “days and weeks” from now.

At least some asylum seekers could immediately be shuttled to Ontario on arrival, if that was their intended destination. But the city of Toronto has indicated that it, too, is saturated, so some might also be directed toward smaller communities outside the core, where they can more easily find work.

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READ MORE: Feds brace for more irregular Quebec border crossings with meal plan, extra funding

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As soon as they cross the border between checkpoints, the asylum seekers are detained by border officials, then undergo security screening and identification. They are then released, and some granted work permits, as they await a decision on whether they are eligible to claim asylum.

The union representing border guards in Canada has been complaining for over a year that more staff must be hired to deal with a renewed influx.

WATCH: Union head addresses illegal border crossings

Click to play video: 'Focus Montreal: Illegal border crossings'
Focus Montreal: Illegal border crossings

Changing profiles

The majority of the people crossing last summer in Lacolle, Que., were Haitian. In response, the government began an outreach effort in the Haitian community (along with others in the U.S.) to try and dispel myths about the ease of coming to Canada.

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In a technical briefing last Friday, officials said the profile of new arrivals has changed, with a large number now from Nigeria. These individuals and families have often been granted tourist visas for the United States, and are landing in the U.S. using those documents, then immediately heading north.

“We’ve been sharing that information with the United States with the view of preventing the abuse of U.S. visas for the purpose of asylum, and that has had an impact in terms of the United States taking action,” said Shannon Ker, a spokesperson for the immigration department.

“In addition, we are continuing our outreach efforts throughout the U.S., including areas in which there [is] Nigerian diaspora.”

WATCH: Influx of asylum seekers resuming at Canadian border

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Influx of asylum seekers resuming at Canadian border

Nigeria has been dealing with a wave of violent attacks in recent years, perpetrated by the Islamic State-aligned Boko Haram.

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Global Affairs Canada advises limiting all non-essential travel to the African nation, noting that “the security situation throughout the country is unpredictable, and there is a significant risk of terrorism, crime, inter-communal clashes, armed attacks and kidnappings.”

Other countries of origin this year include Colombia, the United States (many of these may be children born in the U.S. accompanying their parents north) and Pakistan.

Conservatives table motion

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel tweeted on Saturday that the situation at the Canada-U.S. border is now “out of control,” and has tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Liberals to table a detailed plan to stop the arrivals by May 11.

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On Monday during Question Period in the House of Commons, Rempel said the government needs to stop throwing money at the problem, and start working on stopping the flow.

“It’s kinda like having a hole in your roof during a storm but you’re replacing the hardwoods every day,” she said.

But Hussen’s office says any effort to turn people away between legal checkpoints will only result in people trying to cross into Canada unseen, unregistered and undetected.

“Conservative suggestions have ranged from violating international law to militarizing the border to commandeering a cattle barn,” said Genest. “None are serious proposals.”

Asylum seekers crossing between border checkpoints are taking advantage of a loophole in the Safe third Country Agreement. The agreement means that if they were to show up at a legal Canada-U.S. crossing, they would likely be turned back to America and told to claim asylum there.

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