The number of people crossing into Quebec from the U.S. and making refugee claims skyrocketed seven-fold last month.
New figures obtained by CBC News show that 724 people made claims in February, compared to just 99 made at the same spot in February 2016. This is on top of the record number of people who claimed asylum at the border crossing in January: 452 people compared to 137 last January — a 230 percent jump.
There’s been such a large influx of asylum seekers there that the Canada Border Services Agency in Quebec has converted an unused basement to process the mounting claims.
It’s unclear how many of those claims were made by people crossing illegally, but other provinces have also seen an uptick in the number of people taking risky and irregular routes into Canada to avoid getting stopped by border guards and sent back to the U.S. Many of these people cite the election of President Donald Trump and the precarious status of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. as reasons for wanting to flee. Cities across the country are bracing for even more people to cross as the weather warms up.
Federal cabinet ministers are meeting Tuesday to discuss solutions to the influx of asylum seekers. Members of the Conservatives are demanding the government bolster security along the border and law enforcement pursue criminal offences against those who bypass formal checkpoints.
Over the weekend, public safety minister Ralph Goodale visited Emerson, Manitoba, the small border town that has seen a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers illegally crossing from the U.S. Goodale announced an extra $30,000 for frontline workers who deal with newcomers, and said more resources would be made available in the near future.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, which processes refugee claims referred to them by the Canada Border Services Agency, reported a 40 percent rise in new asylum cases in 2016 compared to the year before. It’s unclear how many of those refugee claims were granted or denied in the end.