Canada and the United States have revised a decades-old agreement following a surge in the number of illegal asylum seekers

Canada, VS wijzigen decennia oud pact na toename van illegale asielzoekers

Canada and the United States on Friday revised a two-decade-old refugee agreement, part of efforts to reduce the record flow of asylum seekers entering Canada through unofficial border crossings.

The deal was the news highlight of US President Joe Biden’s first visit to Canada, and will provide some relief to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Safe Third Country Agreement, signed in 2002 and enacted in 2004, means that asylum seekers who enter Canada or the United States through formal border crossings are turned away and told to claim asylum in the first “safe” country they arrived in.

Now it applies to the entire length of the land border which is 6,416 km long. Under the revised agreement, those who cross the border anywhere on land and apply for asylum within 14 days will be returned.

It comes into effect from midnight on Saturday. A Canadian government source, who was not authorized to speak officially, said there will be increased police patrols at some unofficial border crossings, but no major enforcement resources will be deployed yet.

“Both of our countries believe in fair and safe, fair and orderly migration, refugee protection and border security. So, we will now use the Safe Third Country Agreement … between official points of entry,” Trudeau told reporters.

Irregular entry

Most illegal asylum seekers entering Canada cross the Wroxham Road, a narrow dirt road that connects New York state to Quebec province. According to Canadian government statistics, 5,000 people crossed in January and about 4,500 in February.

In the hours before the new deadline, things were relatively quiet at Wroxham Road. A Reuters photographer on Wroxham Road witnessed 11 Turkish refugees entering Canada, being escorted to the border by a Turkish Uber driver.

“I’m still driving a taxi, so I don’t care, it doesn’t matter to me,” the driver said when asked what he would do when crossing the border illegally.

“I feel sorry for the people.”

Canada, which has been pushing for such a review for years, is under added pressure to reach a deal after nearly 40,000 asylum seekers crossed illegally last year, a ninefold increase in 2021 when the coronavirus pandemic measures were in place. Pre-pandemic in 2019.

After the amendments come into force, these migrants will be repatriated. At the same time, Canada has pledged to take in 15,000 displaced people from the Western Hemisphere.

Unable to work

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which guards ports of entry, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which guards the rest of the border, refer enforcement questions to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a federal government agency.

The ministry referred enforcement questions to the CBSA and RCMP and said in a statement the two agencies will “work together to maintain the integrity of Canada’s border.”

Taxi driver Tyler Provost said he worries about what will happen to the immigrant families affected.

“We have a family coming from Afghanistan tomorrow. … We have to pick them up at 11 in the morning, but I can’t because where am I supposed to 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 case was brought to the Supreme Court last fall and a ruling is expected in the coming months.

Refugee activists have warned that the measures will drive people underground and down dangerous paths.

“It’s unworkable. How do you secure a border this long? People will cross unnoticed. People will cross in a very dangerous way,” said refugee advocate Maureen Chilkoff.

“It’s a lost cause to close the border.”

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