Canada and the United States change a decades-old pact after the number of illegal asylum seekers increases
Canada and the United States amended a two-decade-old refugee agreement on Friday as part of efforts to reduce the record flow of asylum seekers entering Canada through unofficial border crossings.
The deal marked the culmination of US President Joe Biden’s first visit to Canada as president and could bring some relief to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is under pressure from political opponents to act.
The Safe Third Country Agreement, signed in 2002 and signed into law in 2004, originally meant that asylum seekers entering Canada or the United States through official border crossings would be turned away and invited to seek asylum. in the first “safe” country they arrived in.
Now it applies to the entire length of the 6,416 km long land border. Under the revised pact, anyone who crosses the border anywhere along the land border and applies for asylum within 14 days will be turned away.
It goes into effect Saturday at midnight. A Canadian government source who is not authorized to speak officially said there will be more police patrols at some unofficial border crossings, but no major law enforcement resources will be deployed. for the moment.
“Our two countries believe in fair and safe, just and orderly migration, refugee protection and border security. Therefore, we will now apply the Safe Third Country Agreement … between official ports of entry “Trudeau told reporters.
The vast majority of illegal asylum seekers entering Canada cross Roxham Road, a narrow dirt road that connects New York State to the province of Quebec. Nearly 5,000 crossed in January, and about 4,500 in February, according to Canadian government statistics.
A few hours before the new deadline, things were relatively calm on Roxham Road. A Reuters photographer on Roxham Road saw a group of 11 Turkish refugees entering Canada, taken to the border by a Turkish Uber driver.
“I still drive a taxi, so I don’t care. I don’t care,” the driver said when asked what he would do if the border was closed to illegal crossings.
“I feel sorry for the people.”
Canada, which has been pushing for such a review for years, is under additional pressure to reach an agreement after nearly 40,000 asylum seekers crossed illegally last year, a nine-fold increase from 2021 when measures against the coronavirus pandemic were in place, and more than doubled. of the pre-pandemic in 2019.
After the amendments come into force, these migrants would be returned. At the same time, Canada has pledged to welcome 15,000 displaced people from the Western Hemisphere.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which monitors ports of entry, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which monitors the rest of the border, have referred enforcement matters to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, an agency of the federal government.
The department referred law enforcement matters to the CBSA and the RCMP and said in a statement that the two agencies “will work together to maintain the integrity of Canada’s border.”
Taxi driver Tyler Provost expressed concern about what will happen to the migrant families affected.
“We have a family that was supposed to come from Afghanistan tomorrow. … We were supposed to pick them up at 11am, but I can’t because where do I take them?”
Twice the Safe Third Country Agreement has been declared null and void by Canadian courts and twice the Courts of Appeal have upheld the agreement. The latest lawsuit was brought to the Supreme Court last fall and a decision is expected in the coming months.
Refugee activists have warned that these measures will drive people underground and push them down riskier paths.
“It’s impractical. How can a border of this length be guarded? People will go unnoticed. People will cross in more dangerous ways,” said refugee lawyer Maureen Silcoff.
“It’s a lost cause to close the border.”
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