From Roxham to Ontario, a trip sometimes made reluctantly
To relieve Quebec, which is facing an influx of migrants, the federal government is transferring Ontario, since June, part of them. If the measure is said to be voluntary, the testimony of organizations indicates the opposite.
On one side, asylum seekers. On the other, RCMP officers. Between them, the Canada-US border.
Since last June, more than 2,000 refugee claimants arriving via Roxham Road have been transferred by the federal government to Ontario.< /p>
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), between June 30 and October 6, 1,178 asylum seekers were sent to Niagara Falls, 720 to Cornwall and 293 to Ottawa, for a total of 2,191 transfers.
For this period, IRCC estimates the cost of operations at nearly $10,770,000, or about $4,900 per person.
This practice was put in place following repeated requests from the Legault, Quebec government claiming that its services can no longer meet the demand, which has increased sharply since the reopening of the road. Roxham in November 2021.
Between January and September 2022, 26,846 asylum application files were processed by the Agence des services frontaliers in Quebec, the vast majority concerning people who passed through Roxham Road.
This is well beyond the previous record set in 2017, when 18,836 requests were registered in Quebec. This toll stood at 18,518 in 2018 and 16,136 in 2019, before dropping to 3,189 in 2020 during the pandemic.
In an email, IRCC assures that the transfers are made on a voluntary basis. They are offered to people who want to settle in Ontario or in the west of the country.
IRCC says that asylum seekers can also be transferred temporarily to Ontario, in order to free up space in temporary accommodation sites in Quebec. They can then return to Quebec as soon as accommodation is available.
However, several Montreal organizations have noted that asylum seekers have been pressured to board the buses, sometimes with an ultimatum of a few hours or even a few minutes.
This is told us by Juan, an asylum seeker who arrived via Roxham Road over the summer with his wife and two children. They fled their country in an emergency to protect themselves from violence.
Upon their arrival, they had to observe a quarantine in a hotel requisitioned by the federal government. Everything went well, until the day when a manager burst into their room to invite them to pack up.
Juan was not present , he was making arrangements in town for their installation in Montreal. He received a panicked call from his wife. She only understood that we had to leave… and quickly.
Both speak neither French nor English. Luckily, Juan was then in the company of a social worker who was able to do the translation over the phone.
The situation was simple: they had 30 minutes to find a home address in Quebec. Otherwise, they had to board a bus bound for Ontario.
Their stress level was then at its maximum. I knew that Ontario was far from here and so I didn't want to go there, says Juan, still shaken by this episode, weeks later.
Miraculously, thanks to the social worker, within minutes they found an emergency place in a shelter for asylum seekers.
“We can't treat these people like numbers. There are people who are resilient enough to take it, but we have a lot of children traumatized by their migration history, a lot of women too. »
— Arthur Durieux, co-founder, Center Le Pont
The family was welcomed by Center Le Pont. It was co-founder Arthur Durieux who opened the doors to them, as he does for dozens of families each year.
This family was lucky because a room was ready, he said, while calling on governments to show humanity.
Subsequently, Juan and his family found an apartment. With his wife, they are now taking francization courses, their daughter is going to school and the couple has the firm intention of working and integrating in Quebec.
Arthur Durieux, co-founder of the organization Le Pont, residential center and services for asylum seekers
According to the Welcome Collective and the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), this type of situation was observed on several occasions during the summer, when the pressure on the reception system was at its maximum.
Same observation at Foyer du monde, which offers temporary accommodation to migrants. Its coordinator, Eva Gracia-Turgeon, opposes the transfer of people who want to settle permanently in Quebec.
According to her, a transfer is an additional burden for asylum seekers who have already applied for asylum in Quebec.
They then have to make complex changes to make track the application in another province. This complicates the management of the migratory route, she laments.
IRCC assures that information is provided to asylum seekers to help them modify their file and that they can have access to a support service, but, according to Eva Gracia-Turgeon, the situation is far from being ideal.
It creates an additional weight on people who don't know Ontario, people who left their country because they probably had problems of violence, exclaims Ms. Gracia-Turgeon.
Eva Gracia-Turgeon, coordinator of Foyer du monde
The Montreal organizations we consulted denounced the fact that transferred asylum seekers do not always understand the stakes of this trip.
Lack of communication, short period of reflection, language barrier, poor support… according to them, the care is far from optimal, in a context where the various government reception services are overwhelmed.
< blockquote class="styledBase__StyledBase-sc-1push81-0 hoOnuT blockquote is-long-quote">
“Some people don't trust law enforcement or government. When they get here, it's not that kind of action that's going to make them feel secure. It's not answering their questions to force them to do something without telling them what's going on.
— Eva Gracia-Turgeon, Coordinator, Foyer du monde
For its part, IRCC wrote to us that asylum seekers receive a document explaining where they will be transferred with answers to the most common questions, including financial aid.
Also according to IRCC, this document is available in several languages, including Creole, Spanish, Turkish and Arabic. The department maintains that a service provider is also available on site to answer questions from asylum seekers.