16.3 C
Monday, June 5, 2023
HomeWorldWhat the new US-Canada border deal means for asylum seekers

What the new US-Canada border deal means for asylum seekers


Montreal, Quebec – Canada and the United States have announced an agreement expanding their powers to deport asylum seekers crossing the country’s common border at unofficial points of entry, drawing condemnation from human rights defenders.

The deal, which the Canadian government said would go into effect early Saturday, effectively extends the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) to the entire US-Canada border.

“The United States and Canada will work together to deter unlawful border crossings and fully implement the updated Safe Third Country Agreement,” US President Joe Biden said during a speech to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on Friday afternoon.

But human rights groups said the move will not deter refugees and asylum seekers from crossing the 6,416 km (3,987 mi) land border between neighboring countries, but will instead encourage them to take riskier routes.

Here’s what you need to know about the agreement.

How does the new agreement work?

The White House said in a factsheet that the updated STCA would be applied “to migrants crossing between ports of entry”.

The Reuters news agency reported on Friday that “under a final rule to be published in the U.S. Federal Register, the revised agreement will apply to anyone who submits an ‘application for asylum or other protection’ within 14 days of crossing the border in either country. border.”

Separately, Canada also agreed to take in “an additional 15,000 humanitarian migrants” during the year from countries in the Western Hemisphere, “such as Haiti, Colombia and Ecuador,” according to the White House.

What rules governed the border before this?

Since 2004, the STCA has forced asylum seekers to apply for protection in the first country they arrive in: the US or Canada.

That meant people already in the US couldn’t apply for asylum at an official port of entry into Canada, or vice versa, and border authorities could return people in uniform at official land crossings.

But asylum seekers could claim protection once on Canadian soil, and that loophole forced thousands to take informal routes across the vast land border between the two nations.

How many people crossed into Canada outside official points of entry?

Last year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intercepted more than 39,500 asylum seekers crossing the border into Canada irregularly. government figures. Almost all of these crossings were in the eastern province of Quebec.

In January and February of this year, more than 9,500 people were intercepted.

What about the US side?

US Border Patrol processed 3,577 people who entered the US irregularly from Canada last year, CBS News reportedciting government data.

What effect will the new agreement have in practice?

The new agreement means that both Canada and the US will be allowed to return asylum seekers already in their respective countries, closing the loophole in the STCA.

In a statement, the said the Canadian government the expansion means that “in the future, foreign nationals crossing anywhere along the Canada-US border will not be eligible to apply for asylum unless they meet an STCA exemption”.

“Otherwise, they will be sent back to the US or Canada to continue their asylum application, under the principle of the first safe country.”

How have rights groups responded?

“This is very dangerous,” said Frantz Andre, spokesperson and coordinator of Comite d’action des personnes sans statut, a Montreal-based group that offers support to asylum seekers and others without immigration status.

Andre said that despite encountering “a locked door” at the border, people will continue to come; They will simply be forced to take greater risks to find new roads to cross. “I have no doubt. People have come too far to go back. They know the US is not a safe country,” Andre told Al Jazeera.

“This is not the Canada I knew,” he said. “What is a humanitarian crisis has become political.”

The representative of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Canada said in a statement that UNHCR is aware of the changes and “looks forward to reviewing the details” in the coming days with the Canadian government.

“UNHCR recognizes that the US and Canada face major challenges related to the volume of arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants at their borders and urges all governments to bear in mind their obligation to to provide a refuge from conflict, violence or persecution,” Rema told Jamous Imseis.

Why is this happening now?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under political pressure domestically to respond to an increase in border crossings, particularly from conservative politicians in Quebec and at the federal level.

Of the nearly 40,000 asylum seekers who irregularly entered Quebec last year, most took a popular, unofficial route from New York state known as Roxham Road. Most came from Haiti, Turkey, Colombia and Chile, CBC News reported.

For months, right-wing Quebec Premier Francois Legault has called for the closure of Roxham Road and the transfer of asylum seekers from the province, who he said could no longer handle the influx of arrivals.

This week Legault sent his message to the rest of Canada, to write an open letter in The Globe and Mail, one of the nation’s largest newspapers, headlined, “It’s time to close the breach at Roxham Road and enforce Canada’s borders.” At a press conference, Legault welcomed Friday’s announcement: “Thank you, Mr. Trudeau,” the prime minister said in French.

Against this backdrop, Pearl Eliadis, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal, described the new deal as “a political statement to appease critics.”

“People cannot be physically prevented from crossing any other point of the border, near Roxham Road or anywhere else. This measure will only move the problem and is a micro solution to a macro problem,” Eliadis said in a statement shared by the university.

How will the new agreement be enforced?

At a press conference on Friday, Trudeau said that “police and border agents will enforce the agreement and return irregular border crossings to the nearest port of entry with the United States.”

But exactly how that will work remains unclear.

When asked how the RCMP planned to enforce the expanded deal, a spokesman told Al Jazeera that the federal police cannot say what resources will be spent on specific tasks “for security reasons and to ensure the integrity of our operations.”

Public Safety Canada, the federal ministry that oversees the country’s borders, did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Friday.

“Other than an incredible increase from what currently exists, I don’t think there is any suggestion from the government that they have the resources or the capacity to patrol the entire border,” said Julia Sande, human rights law and policy campaigner with Amnesty International Canada .

“It’s just a matter of pushing people to more remote gateways,” she told Al Jazeera.

Of the nearly 40,000 asylum seekers who irregularly entered Quebec last year, most took a popular, unofficial route from New York State known as Roxham Road (File: Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

When does the new policy take effect?

The Canadian government said the expanded STCA would go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Eastern (04:01 GMT) on Saturday.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether a ruling from Canada’s highest court, expected within months, could affect the new border rules.

The Supreme Court of Canada is currently weighing a legal challenge against the STCA, which plaintiffs say violates the Canadian constitution and exposes asylum seekers to the risk of the US sending them back to their home countries.

“The idea that the government would try to expand (the STCA) while we’re still waiting for a decision on that is just unconscionable,” Sande said. “This is not going to stop indirect crossings. People still have to seek safety if they don’t get protection in the United States.”


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

Latest stories