Sunday, February 19, 2017

In from the cold -- refugees walking to Canada UPDATED

Canada now is accepting the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And isn’t it great that we can do this.
I know there are inevitably some Canadians who will be “outraged” about the refugee stories we are now hearing about along the world’s longest undefended border.  I’m so glad we elected the Trudeau Liberals 15 months ago; I hope public safety minister Ralph Goodale will continue to stand firm on Canada’s right to continue to treat refugees fairly.
These photos are from a CBC story yesterday on refugees crossing illegally from the United States.  They show RCMP helping the family of nine Sudanese people across a snowbank at the border, after running from US border guards.

As the CBC story notes, asylum seekers who cross illegally are arrested but they can remain in Canada while their refugee claim is assessed.  If  they try to claim refugee status at a regular border crossing, the so-called Safe Third Party agreement between Canada and the US means they are turned back immediately into the United States.
And in the United States, their future is now bleak.
I know I am probably quoting too much from this story, but it is just so great:
Eight asylum-seekers, including four children, barely made it across the Canadian border on Friday as a U.S. border patrol officer tried to stop them and a Reuters photographer captured the scene.
As a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer seized their passports and questioned a man in the front passenger seat of a taxi that had pulled up to the border in Champlain, N.Y., four adults and four young children fled the cab and ran to Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the other side.
One by one they scrambled across the snowy gully separating the two countries. RCMP officers watching from the other side helped them up, lifting the younger children and asking a woman, who leaned on her fellow passenger as she walked, if she needed medical care.
The children looked back from where they had come as the U.S. officer held the first man, saying his papers needed to be verified. The man turned to a pile of belongings and heaved pieces of luggage two at a time into the gully — enormous wheeled suitcases, plastic shopping bags, a black backpack.
"Nobody cares about us," he told journalists.

The man then appeared to grab their passports from the U.S. officer before making a run for the border.
The officer yelled and gave chase but stopped at the border marker. Canadian police took hold of the man's arm as he crossed.
The border patrol officer told his counterpart that the man was in the United States illegally and that he would have detained him. Officers on both sides momentarily eyed the luggage strewn in the snow before the U.S. officer took it, and a walker left on the road, to the border line.
The RCMP carried the articles to their vehicles, and the people piled in to be driven to a nearby border office to be interviewed by police and to make a refugee claim
Another story in the Montreal Gazette today tells the story of a Yemen family and explains why Muslim refugee claimants are running to Canada:
[Montreal immigration lawyer] Taillefer says there are many practical reasons refugees are choosing to come to Canada instead of staying in the U.S.
For one, they are entitled to legal aid in Canada and welfare while they wait for a hearing, which is supposed to happen within 45 days of their arrival.
When they first come to Montreal, the YMCA provides food and shelter, but also help accessing social services, as well as finding an apartment and work.
In comparison, refugee claimants can wait two or three years for a hearing in the U.S., and their legal costs can reach as high as $15,000. In the meantime, they can’t get a work visa, and welfare is all but non-existent south of the border, Taillefer added.
“I had clients who said they were living off soup kitchens and when they saw that their files would be treated in 45 days and they could get legal aid in Canada it made a big difference,” Taillefer said.
Those factors may have contributed to the massive increase last year in the number of refugee claims made at land borders in Canada, despite the Safe Third Country Agreement — up more than 60 per cent across the country, from 4,316 in 2015 to 7,021 in 2016.
Then there’s Trump — and the state of the world.
“Since November we’ve heard more and more about Trump’s politics but also of the attitude of Americans in general toward refugees (during the election campaign),” Taillefer said.
People who had legal status as refugee claimants or students started to say that even if they were accepted by the authorities the population would still see them in a negative light, he said.
Please also read the great diary by Kelly Macias from Friday…
And here is a recent CBC report — reporter Nick Purden interviewed a Somali man in Winnipeg who had crossed in November after 12 hours walking, and had gained refugee status.  Then Purden drove to the border that night, February 12, and found another Somali refugee who had walked for 21 hours to cross the border.  The man didn’t realize he had already made it to Canada, and he needed repeated reassurance that the RCMP constable who arrested him was not an American border guard.

Also posted at Daily Kos

UPDATE:  So some federal Conservative politicians are against the new refugees and want RCMP to turn them back to the States.
Michelle Rempel and Tony Clement have tweeted that illegal crossings are unsafe and place a burden on local law enforcement.
Yeah, like the RCMP in southern Manitoba and Quebec would be chasing down international drug traffickers if they didn't have to rescue a few dozen refugees.
Not to say this isn't going to develop into a significant problem pretty rapidly.  But of course the answer is to suspend the Safe Third-Party agreement so that these desperate people can ask for refugee status at regular border crossings instead of having to cross illegally.  Canada should do this right away, before Trump's new executive order is promulgated.
And before someone freezes to death.

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