Montreal’s iconic Olympic Stadium has been transformed into an emergency shelter for a notable uptick in asylum seekers likely fleeing President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.
Quebec has processed 6,505 asylum claimants in the past six months. This is roughly one thousand people more than the total number of claims processed in all of 2016, according to statistics compiled by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Officials from PRAIDA, a local organization that welcomes refugees, received applications from 1,174 asylum seekers last month alone, a 550 per cent increase from the 180 such claims it dealt with in July 2016.
“We’ve never seen this before. We’re used to spikes, which depend on international events and are usually manageable, but in this case I would say it’s way more intense than what we’re used to seeing,” PRAIDA spokesperson Francine Dupuis told Radio-Canada.
“We’ve never seen this before.”
Dupuis says the Olympic Stadium is only a temporary housing solution. Its new tenants — which include pregnant women and small children— will be set up in a hallway near the food and concession stalls.
Border officials report that many of the asylum seekers are Haïtian — a group that has felt especially vulnerable as Trump has tried to make good on his vow to seal up U.S. borders in myriad of maladroit ways.
This spring, Trump announced he would be revoking special protections President Barack Obama had given to nearly 60,000 Haitian asylum seekers who sought refuge in the U.S. after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
“Donald Trump wants to save his country, but we have to save our lives,” asylum-seeker Osnel Clairibus told Radio-Canada.
To keep up with the migrant demand, Montreal has set up ad-hoc housing in various community centres and student residences, and has now resorted to turning its landmark stadium —sporadically used for concerts, sporting events and monster truck shows— into shelter.
“Donald Trump wants to save his country, but we have to save our lives.”
Immigration support workers say that in recent weeks, they’ve had to find homes for more than 1,600 people.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Lisa Filipps told VICE the ministry is “aware of the current situation in Quebec” and that they are working with the province to rectify the situation.
“We’ve already taken various steps to process these files more efficiently and, given the increased amount of asylum claims we’ve received in 2017, we’re putting forth new methods as needed.”