Asked about migrant surge, Bill Blair says ‘overwhelming majority of those people have left’

Click to play video: 'Substantial reductions on asylum seekers at irregular border crossings: Blair'
Substantial reductions on asylum seekers at irregular border crossings: Blair
WATCH: Border Security Minister Bill Blair tells Mercedes Stephenson he is working with his U.S. counterpart on asylum seekers at the border and trying to find ways to enhance and improve the safe third country agreement for both sides – Sep 23, 2018

Border Security Minister Bill Blair says most of the people who arrived in a surge of migrants last year have left.

In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Blair was asked about how the government has been working to deal with the surge of more than 32,000 migrants who have walked across the border over the last year and a half to make asylum claims in Canada.

READ MORE: More than half of Quebec asylum seekers had some kind of ‘legal status’ in U.S. before crossing to Canada

He was also asked whether the government knows where all of the people who have crossed into the country are, given that statistics shared by officials two weeks ago suggest only a couple hundred have actually been deported.

“I will tell you that we did experience a surge of people last year,” Blair said in response.

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“We found a very small percentage of them were actually eligible to stay, and the overwhelming majority of those people have left.”

WATCH BELOW: CBSA using DNA websites to identify migrants

Following his remarks, Global News requested clarification from a spokesperson for Blair.

That’s because the number reported by the Toronto Star on Sept. 8, cites Canada Border Services Agency statistics that only 398 of the 32,173 people who crossed the U.S. border irregularly into Canada between April 2017 and August 2018, had actually been deported.

READ MORE: Asylum seeker claims increase in July, down year-over-year

Of those, the report states 146 were sent back to the U.S., of which 116 had U.S. citizenship.

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The rest were deported to Haiti, Colombia, Turkey and Iraq.

READ MORE: Asylum seekers caught up in battle amid Tory, Ford and Trudeau governments

When asked what numbers Blair was referencing in his remarks, press secretary Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux said the people he was talking about had “left the Lacolle facilities.”

Lacolle is the town in Quebec that has become the epicentre of the irregular asylum seeker situation.

When asked to provide a copy of numbers that showed how many had left the Lacolle facilities and that demonstrated that was the case, Cadieux quoted CBSA numbers saying the number of irregular migrant removals in 2017/2018 was 240 and the 2018/2019 removals were 214.

The irregular/failed claimant removals, which are a subset of the total removals, stood at 125 and 127 in those same years.

“Note that not all those who have arrived in recent years have finished their processes that would ultimately lead to a removal,” she wrote in an email.

“This is what the minister is referring to when he says the ‘the overwhelming majority of those people have left.’ The others are still going through the process.”

READ MORE: Quebec says 400 asylum seekers a day could enter province this summer

Border agents from across Canada were diverted to the town this summer to help deal with the influx of people crossing the border.

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Quebec officials had said this spring they were bracing for as many as 400 people per day to cross the border.

Conservatives have accused the government of setting up a refugee camp outside of the town by erecting tents to house hundreds of people at a time.

Global News asked for a copy of the numbers Cadieux said Blair was referring to as well as clarification on the criteria used to determine when, and in what circumstances, people were leaving the facilities in Lacolle.

No further response was provided by deadline.

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