Despite the promise being a central part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign and part of the image he himself has chosen to create for Canada – a safe haven for those refugees facing the the threat of deportation in the United States – Trudeau’s plan to accept refugees freely has been deemed a ‘false hope’ as his government backtracks on immigration.
Since January 2017, over 11,000 people have crossed from the U.S. into Canada, driven by the fear of Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration. Recently, the pace has picked up with some 250 people a day, most entering the country from remote and unguarded locations, so as to bypass the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement, which allows refugees only to apply for asylum in the first country they arrive in, but is only applicable at US-Canada border crossings, by train or at airports and is therefore avoidable for those seeking asylum remotely, on foot. Many organisations, such as Amnesty International, have called on the government to suspend this agreement; hoping that it would help stop the number of people braving sub-zero temperatures, icy rivers and dangerous terrain in order to have access to the country. Despite this, Trudeau said there are no current plans to change the pact; “The United Nations has made a determination that even with the shift in immigration policies of the United States, they still fully qualify for holding up their end of the bargain on the Safe Third Country,” he said, suggesting many refugees will be at the mercy of the US’ turbulent immigration policies.
This has dissolved into a panicked scramble for Canadian officials to process and house the arrivals. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium has become a temporary welcome centre, as the military has set a 500 person camp up at the border and a temporary city of tents in Ontario. Despite these efforts, the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that his immigration system is suffering under the volume of people trying to get into Canada.
Trudeau has been clear to those who are attempting to relocate on foot; “You will not be at an advantage if you choose to enter Canada irregularly. You must follow the rules and there are many.” He also commented on the issue of those seeking to migrate to Canada for economic reasons “For someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration,” Trudeau announced to reporters this week. “It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death, or being stateless people. If they are seeking asylum we’ll evaluate them on the basis of what it is to be a refugee or asylum seeker.”
This is not the first time Trudeau has had to scale down his promises, for instance, in 2015 he could not meet his target of settling 25,000 refugees by the end of the year. Although approximately 40,000 Syrian refugees have come into the country since 2015, Trudeau may need to find a better way of implementing the system to match his promises.
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