Influx of refugees straining Canadian services

Published: Mar. 21, 2018 at 3:27 PM EDT
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Refugees continue to stream into Canada through the North County, and the unprecedented northward migration has overwhelmed services in Quebec.

The images have become all too familiar -- families unloading everything they own from taxis and crossing into Canada.

"The cabs pull in here and then they unload, and then the crossing is right here," said Janet McFetridge, who lives on Roxham Road in Champlain, New York. She is one of the last American faces asylum-seekers see before they cross a ditch into Canada.

"The one woman had just brought everything that she owned and that's why we were struggling with the bags. Because once they cross they cannot come back and get a bag," McFetridge said. She's lived here for years and couldn't have imagined her quiet road would look like this.

Nearly 20,000 immigrants used this remote road to cross illegally into Canada last year. A Canadian refugee center director, Francisco Rico, says he knows why. "I think that we are in front of an increase of people coming close to the border, coming illegally or whatever, to Canada in the next 18 months to years, due to the effects of the Trump administration," he said.

Thousands of the people using this crossing are Haitians that were granted temporary protection after the devastating earthquake in 2010. But the White House says on July 22, 2019 that protection is ending. Supporters point out they were never supposed to have permanent protection here, but opponents say Haiti -- which remains impoverished -- can't afford to take them back. And so French-speaking Canada became the next option for people desperate to avoid deportation.

They're arrested as soon as they cross the border. McFetridge says most are families. "The children are terrified of what's going to happen, and are their parents going to be taken from them, and they're going to be left alone," she said. "It's pretty heartbreaking."

The migration problem is now making it into Canada's federal budget. The country wants to set aside $170 million for efforts like border patrols and processing refugee applications. Of the more than 2,500 border-crossers whose refugee claims were finalized last year, 53-percent were granted refugee status. Advocates say Canada has no choice but to invest in their transition because they're coming regardless.

"I want to have people that say, 'Wow, they opened the door when I needed it,' you know what I mean? And, 'Wow, I'm so thankful they picked me for this and they gave me these options.' So that's the system that we have to build," Rico said.

The influx shows no signs of ending. More than 1,500 asylum seekers walked across the border in January. While that's fewer than some months last summer, those working with refugees say this is the new normal.