Canada Shows Compassion to Haitian Asylum Seekers

  • Posted on: 7 August 2017
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Haitians are increasingly seeking asylum in Canada for fear of being deported when a six month Temporary Protected Status extension concludes on January 22nd .  According to the Miami Herald copied below, the Montreal City Council estimates that half of the 6,500 asylum seekers arriving since January are Haitian.  In the United States, civil society groups continue to advocate for another extension. The uncertainty is difficult for individuals and families who know that their opportunites to work and study will be extremely limited if they are deported.  The Candadian response has been both competent and compassionate.  Asylum seekers are being housed, their basic needs met, and they are safe.  For more information on the response from a Canadian perspective, take a look this Global and Mail op-ed by Ratna Omdivar as well. 

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES AND HAROLD ISAAC

Miami Herald

AUGUST 03, 2017 8

Worried that the door to freedom is closing in the United States under President Donald Trump, Haitians are flocking to Canada to seek asylum. “According to my sources: 2,500 new arrivals in July (U.S. border refugees),” Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre tweeted in French on Wednesday. Canadian immigration officials weren’t able to say how many of the refugees making the border crossing from northern New York into Quebec are Haitian. But Frantz Benjamin, the Haiti-born chairman of the Montreal City Council, believes at least half of the estimated 6,500 asylum seekers that have arrived since January are Haitians prompted by Trump’s hardline on immigration. The number also includes individuals from several Muslim-majority nations banned by Trump. “It’s clear for us that the new politic of Donald Trump, the new president of the United States, has created a panic that today has a lot of people believing that their future isn’t in the United States and by ‘any means necessary,’ they will get to Canada,” Benjamin said. “But we want to make it clear, Canadian law hasn’t changed.”

Observers say the surge in Haitian asylum seekers coincides with the Trump administration’s decision in May to grant Haitians only a six-month extension of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, when it expired on July 22. The special immigration status, given to Haiti after its devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, has allowed 58,000 Haitians to legally work and live in the United States without fear of deportation. In announcing the decision, John Kelly — then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, now White House chief of staff — said he would revisit Haiti’s TPS designation ahead of the new Jan. 22 expiration date to determine if another extension is warranted, but Haitians should prepare to return home.

David Lapan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency “has not made any decision about the future status of TPS for Haiti.” Haiti's president and foreign minister have said in separate statements that they received assurances from U.S. officials that TPS will be renewed. But Lapan said Thursday, “There is no deal.” That uncertainty has fueled a panic among Haitians, who are choosing to pack their bags and cross the U.S.-Canada border, said Marleine Bastien, a Miami Haitian rights activist. “Haitian families are in an impossible situation,” she said. “On the one hand, they’ve been living here, they made a life here, they are part of the American society. And yet when they apply for TPS extension, they are receiving this letter asking them to basically pack their bags. … They know that Haiti is still recovering and it’s impossible for them to return. They are panicking and making this decision not to wait to be deported like criminals.” Still, Bastien doesn’t condone the move — at least those with TPS. She said they have now traded in their legal status for one of undocumented refugee. “Even if they obtain political asylum, it’s a long process at which time they will remain undocumented,” Bastien said. “Here, they are legal at least until January 2018 … We are still fighting for an extension. The administration has not said they will not renew. They should stay and fight.” A coalition of immigrant support organizations launched a national campaign in Miami Monday to call for the temporary immigration protection of the Haitian and Central American community, known as TPS, to be maintained.

Benjamin, the Canadian official, said he believes Haitian asylum seekers are also being misled by false information on social media networks and unscrupulous individuals telling them that Canada is offering residency and will legalize those who lack permanent legal resident status in the U.S. “There is a way to enter Canada,” he said, adding that about half of the Haitians who sought refuge in Canada after the 2010 earthquake have since been returned to Haiti. Still, for TPS holders, Canada is worth the risk. “Haiti has nothing to offer,” said a beneficiary who declined to give his name, fearing it would jeopardize his chances of remaining in Canada. “It’s the last place we would want to go.”

Alva Pierre, a 31-year-old Haitian mother who crossed the border from New York with her young son on July 27, said the reception in Canada has been as different as day and night compared to the United States. Coderre, an immigration official before being elected as mayor of Montreal, welcomed the new arrivals in French and Creole. On Thursday, Pierre said, another official visited migrants at the stadium. “They welcome you,” she said of Canadian officials. “In the U.S., you aren’t working and no one ever asks you anything. Here, it’s something totally different. Once you arrive the people know that you have to live, you have to function and they try to find a way to make that happen.”

Pierre, who didn’t have TPS, said she arrived in the U.S. in January from Brazil, which opened its doors to Haitians after the earthquake. She made the dangerous 7,000-mile journey across South and Central America to get to the U.S. in hopes of a better life. But after arriving in California, she was detained by U.S. immigration officials, then temporarily released and moved to New York. With no legal status and facing deportation back to Haiti, she decided to take her chances in Canada, traveling by bus seven hours from New York with her son. “Everyone knows how things are in the United States with Trump,” she said, “so everyone is looking for a place to put themselves. I think this is the reason why we all have come here.” Asked why she would not return to Haiti, she shook her head. “Oh my God,” Pierre said, “the only thing we are hearing about Haiti at this moment is bad news. … I don’t see any reason for anyone to return to Haiti now because the people who are in Haiti are complaining. We are already here and we’re here to stay.”

Pierre said Haitians are ending up in Montreal after hearing reports from people who made the trip successfully. Canadian immigration officials and a spokeswoman for PRAIDA, a government-funded immigrant-support program in Quebec, say they cannot say how many of the refugees seeking asylum are Haitian. But they’ve been “observing this situation for months and working on different scenarios,” said Emmanuelle Pacullo, the PRAIDA spokeswoman. One scenario involved opening a network of 10 shelters in the province of Quebec, including setting up cots inside Montreal’s gigantic Olympic Stadium. “There is no crisis per se,” Pacullo insisted, adding, however, that the daily arrivals have created “an extra amount of work. But we are doing well.”

On Thursday, as more migrants began to arrive, officials who had already set up 150 cots in the stadium’s vast corridors where soccer and baseball fans usually walk to their seats, were told to make room for more. “We are right now looking at the possibility of doing so for 600,” said Cedric Essiminy, stadium spokesman. “It’s the first time there are people using the stadium as a shelter in 40 years of existence.” Essiminy said stadium officials received the request to use it as a makeshift shelter on Friday. Within 24 hours, they had identified a place to set up the 150 cots. And while the refugees don’t have private rooms, he said, they have everything they need. “They have water, they have shelter, they have bedsheets. Showers available to them. WiFi because they make research, they call their relatives,” he said. “They have food and they have people who take care of them, asking them if they are OK. There is a also a nurse who comes to see who is OK and who needs special service. It’s rudimentary but it’s functional.”

Photo Credit: Miami Herald

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Think Progress

D. PARVAZAUG

AS OF 2016, AT LEAST 60,000 HAITIANS STILL LIVED IN CAMPS AROUND AFTER A MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE HIT THE COUNTRY IN JANUARY 2010 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DIEU NALIO CHERY

Fearing deportation, as many as 150 Haitians have been crossing the border into Canada every day this past week, hoping the United State’s neighbor to the north will have a more lenient stance than that of President Donald Trump’s administration. Reuters reports that officials in Quebec have opened several sites, including Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, to house Haitians undergoing refugee processing.

Haitians living in the United States are not alone in looking to Canada for sanctuary. Fleeing the Trump administration’s crackdowns and deportations, over 4,300 migrants and asylum seekers from other countries, such as Sudan and Syria, have crossed into Canada from the United States since the start of the year. And what the Trump administration does in January could make things even worse.

That’s when the temporary protected status (TPS) covering roughly 50,000 Haitians who came here before 2011 expires. They were granted the TPS after an earthquake in January 2010 devastated their country, with the most recent extension by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) holding until January 22, 2018. While Canada has vowed to take in asylum seekers from some countries – notably, Syria – the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could also be on track to deport Haitians. Trudeau has twice extended the ban on the deportations, but the last moratorium on deporting Haitians expired in August 2016. This, the CBC reports, prompted 3,200 Haitians without legal status in Canada to apply for residency based on humanitarian grounds. Some have received deportation orders, said Jaggi Singh, an organizer and member of the Montreal-based Non-Status Action Committee.

Given the length of time they’ve already been living in the country, Singh said, many have been allowed to access “special procedures” to stay in Canada. Singh said that the increase in the number of irregular arrivals in Canada “is directly related to the election of Donald Trump.”

He points to the travel ban, which aims to prevent migration from six Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan) and “the demonization of migrants in general” as factors creating a climate of fear and uncertainty for migrants and refugees in the United States. “If you’re a migrant of Arab origin, of Latin American origin, of Haitian origin, of Muslim origin, your integrity and dignity is directly under attack by the climate created under the Trump administration,” he said, adding that the framework for a lot of the issues facing migrants and refugees in the United States were built by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

When asked who the Non-Status Action Committee is seeing, Singh responded, “Families — mostly families.” The Safe Third Country Agreement prevents people from applying for refugee status at the border, so once these “irregular” arrivals are processed, they are given access to health care and a work permit. They can also find housing and live there until their refugee claims are processed. If their claims are rejected, they will face deportation.

The deportation of Haitian asylum-seekers and refugees in the United States would seriously impact the development of Haiti. To start with, said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, remittances from these 50,000 people alone support somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people in Haiti. “It would be a catastrophe – it would be destabilizing Haiti and it would increase desperation in Haiti, causing more sea migration, causing a commitment of U.S. Coast Guard resources,” said Forester. “Haiti’s stability is in our national interest,” he added.

The argument for deporting Haitians is that seven years after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed at least 46,000 (some estimates peg fatalities at 220,000), followed by a cholera epidemic (caused by U.N. peacekeepers, killing around 10,000), Haiti is now safe and stable.

However, as ThinkProgress reported in May, while DHS says Haiti is safe for Haitians, the State Department feels that it is unsafe for Americans, specifically citing the “security environment and lack of adequate medical facilities and response” as reasons why Americans should reconsider traveling there.

In fact, even the DHS memo outlining the reasons why the TPS should end in January 2018 points out that “Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere” and that 40 percent of the population lacks access to health care. Still, it reasons, Haiti had problems before the 2010 earthquake and so that particular disaster (nor the cholera epidemic, nor Hurricane Matthew, which further battered the country in 2016) aren’t sufficient reasons to allow Haitians to stay in the United States. “Haiti is a textbook case for TPS because of the three calamities [the earthquake, cholera and Hurricane Matthew],” said Forester.  “They’re dead wrong about there being enough progress.

8/12/2017

Miami Herald

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

The Canadian police officer at the border was adamant: If you cross here, you will immediately be arrested. The Haitian woman dragged her bulging suitcase across the dirt-covered mound to the Canadian side anyway. She was determined. And so were the mother and her four teenage children who came after, and the Latino family of three after them, and the 39-year-old Haitian father of four who soon followed, his friends keeping a watchful eye in a waiting car as he jumped out of a taxi cab.

While U.S. President Donald Trump is clamping down on illegal immigration, thousands of migrants from Haiti, Central America and Africa are rushing to this border crossing in upstate New York, willing to face arrest in their pursuit of a better life. The popular stop near the border station at Lacolle, Quebec, is quickly becoming a path to a new life for immigrants — and something of a tourist attraction.

The migrant surge has overwhelmed Canadian officials who, after opening Olympic Stadium in Montreal to asylum seekers, this week reopened a shuttered hospital to accommodate the growing numbers and deployed the military to construct a tent city near the official border crossing at St. Bernard-de-Lacolle. By Saturday, 32 Army-green tents, each with the capacity to hold 16 people, had already been constructed, and soldiers planned to put up 13 more before day’s end for the refugees who have decided that getting arrested with an uncertain future in Canada is better than risking deportation under Trump.

On Saturday, Quebec’s Prime Minister Philippe Couillard, responding to the influx of refugees in his province, told the Canadian press that “it’s unfortunate” that asylum seekers have been led to believe that being admitted into Canada was “a done deal.” He and other officials stressed that despite the warm reception and treatment refugees have received, there is an immigration process and arriving migrants will have to demonstrate why they should not be returned to their home countries.

“We have the notion here people are being told, ‘Go to Canada, it’s welcoming. Just walk right in, the streets are paved gold and get a job,’” said Paul Clarke, the executive director of Action Réfugiés Montréal, which works with refugees seeking asylum in Canada. “But it’s not like that. People have to make a refugee claim. They have to state why they are being persecuted or fear persecution in their home country for their race, religion. The statistics in Canada for the last couple of years show that only 50 percent of Haitians meet that test. Only 50 percent are accepted as refugees in Canada. But we kind of get the sense that’s not what’s being told in the States.”

While the wave of Haitians crossing into Canada has been fueled by fears that the U.S. will send them back to Haiti early next year, when Haiti’s Temporary Protective Status is set to end, the community has been bombarded with misleading and false messages on WhatsApp, social media and Creole-language radio saying that Canada is offering free residency. In one message, a man claiming to be an attorney says the Canadian Consul in the United States is inviting “and even encourages all Haitians with or without TPS to apply for Canadian residency.”

And it’s not just Haitians who are hearing the messages.

“I’ve been informed by so many people that Canada is more peaceful,” said Paris Adeyemi, 67, walking along Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, just south of the border, on Friday afternoon after deciding not to cross illegally into the country. Adeyemi, who said his life was in danger back in Nigeria, flew from the African nation to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, then traveled to Champlain with his wife Agnes to ask for asylum. Once Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers informed the couple they would be committing an illegal act, they turned around. “It’s safety that I want. It’s protection I want,’” Adeyemi said, as his wife dragged two large suitcases. “I told the taxi driver take me to the border — that’s all I said. I cannot go through an illegal border. I know what it means.”

But many are going anyway. More than 6,500 asylum-seekers have crossed into Quebec province since the beginning of the year, and most estimates say about half are Haitians. “Right now, the question is how can the governments, the municipal, the provincial government of Quebec and federal in Ottawa manage this?” said Donald Cuccioletta, a historian and senior research associate at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Raoul Dandurand Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies. “It’s approaching a crisis. How do we handle these people once they come across?”

The steady stream of Haitian migrants began in May when the Trump administration announced it was granting Haitians living in the United States only six months extension on their Temporary Protected Status — awarded after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti— which would mean the status would end in January. In July, when the 180-day countdown for January began, the flow of people picked up again.

But the migrant wave actually started in the winter with Trump’s decision to ban migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, Cuccioletta said. It prompted fearful Syrians living in the United States to flee into Canada, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a series of welcoming tweets, saying his nation would welcome “those fleeing persecution, terror and war.”

Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s press secretary, said neither Trudeau’s tweets nor Canada’s welcoming stance toward refugees should be misinterpreted. “Yes, Canada does remain an open and welcoming country for immigrants from around the world, but that doesn’t mean there is a free ticket into the country through the irregular crossings that are happening now,” Ahmad said.

There are significant protocols that must be applied to those seeking to come into Canada and reside there legally, Ahmad said, stressing that those arriving will be subjected to strict vetting. Right now, he said, the focus of the government is “dealing with the immediate situation on hand” and providing the necessary resources to immigration and the Canada Border Services Agency. “We are continuing to monitor the situation,” Ahmad said.

Still, Cuccioletta said while Canadian law calls for the country to automatically accept refugees who cross the border illegally and put them through a process to determine whether they will be accepted, he believes that Trudeau’s position is his way of trying to make Canada opposite to the United States on the world stage. “It’s a way for Mr. Trudeau and the Canadian population to sort of thumb their nose,” at Trump, Cuccioletta said. “Today, we have more strength to say, ‘Hey, we’re willing to back off from U.S. policy.’” “Most people in Canada are anti-Trump,” Cuccioletta added. “I’m not saying there isn’t a Trump grouping of people who support him, but they are in the vast minority. So yeah, Mr. Trudeau felt that he as prime minister was able to do this and have the support of Canadian people.”

Migrant families are told they will be arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before crossing the US to Canada at the border along Roxham Road on Saturday, August 12, 2017. Thousands of people have crossed over into Canada from an irregular crossing near the Champlain–St. Bernard de Lacolle border in hopes of finding residency in Canada. Among them are Haitians who worry that Temporary Protected Status in the US could soon end under the Trump administration.

The steady stream of taxi cabs begin arriving shortly after dawn and go well into the night, an extraordinary exodus along a country road traversing large farms, grazing horses and wildflowers. It’s an idyllic last view of America for migrants like Jose Francois, who after spending a month in Boston after arriving from Haiti, decided anywhere was better than Haiti. “The country doesn’t offer you anything,” said Francois, 39. “If things were good at home, everyone would remain.”

But to risk arrest and possibly deportation back to Haiti? “Life is about taking chances,” he said. As he proceeded to remove his oversized black duffle bag from the taxi’s trunk, his brother and friend looked on from a separate car. They hadn’t known what to expect, the men said, preferring to have Francois take a cab and they follow behind. He walked a few paces to the overgrown crossing separating Canada and the United States. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers warned that what he was about to do was illegal, and he would be arrested if he crossed. He went anyway.

Marc Bien-Aime, the friend, said he understood why Francois, like many Haitians, had no future in his home country. “Haiti is a house on fire, ” Bien-Aime said. “Would you remain in a house that’s on fire?”

8/14/2017

By BEN GITTLESON

ABC News

http://abcnews.go.com/International/haitians-chasing-false-promises-flee...

Thousands of Haitians with uncertain immigration status have fled the United States in recent weeks, walking across the New York border into Quebec seeking a safe haven in Canada, according to the United Nations' refugee agency and Canadian immigration lawyers. An influx of asylum seekers has put a strain on Canadian authorities, which has led them to build tents on the border, shift resources and set up new shelter space. The influx has in part been from Haitians living in the U.S. who say they fear the Trump administration will soon end their protected status in the country, sending them back to Haiti.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has suggested that a program that allows Haitians to reside in the United States -- set up after an earthquake devastated their country in 2010 -- may end in January. Many Haitians crossing into Canada are saying they fear their protected status in the U.S. would soon end, according to the UN and immigration attorneys. Inaccurate information spread through word of mouth and via social media has left many Haitians in the U.S. with the impression that Canada would be more willing to accept them as refugees, according to the UN, lawyers, and a community organization for Haitians in Canada. But Canada offers fewer protections than they would get south of the border. In the U.S., many Haitians have temporary protected status (TPS), meaning they can remain in the country without being deported; a similar program ended in Canada in 2014. “When they come to the border, the way they are being received is welcome, it’s warm,” Chantal Ismé, the vice president of the board of directors of La Maison d’Haïti, a Haitian community and cultural center in Montreal, told ABC News. “But it’s a way of functioning. It’s not pushing aside the laws. And Canada will apply the law.”

During the first six months of this year, Canadian authorities apprehended 4,345 asylum seekers crossing the border illegally -- over three quarters of whom were picked up in Quebec, according to government figures. The Canada Border Services Agency would not say how many were from Haiti, although it did say Haitian was the most common nationality in that time period.

In the winter months following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Canada saw a spike in illegal crossings as those concerned about Donald Trump enacting tough immigration policysought asylum there. "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted soon after Trump's presidential inauguration in January.

In the spring months there was a dropoff, but the flow picked up again as temperatures rose and school let out. Numbers have especially fluctuated just north of Champlain, New York, near the official entry point at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, Nicholas Dorion, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, told ABC News.

At the end of June, around 50 migrants were crossing each day, and in the last few weeks, the daily average jumped to 150-200 -- around 70 percent of whom were Haitian, and many of whom had been in the U.S. for years, according to Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Canada.

Stéphane Handfield, an immigration lawyer in Montreal whose firm represents over 100 Haitians who have recently crossed the border, told ABC News the daily rate was even higher. The Canadian government has yet to release figures for July or August, but Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board said Friday that thousands were believed to have crossed into Quebec "in the last month.”

“We have seen a shift of much more Haitians coming to Canada,” Beuze told ABC News. Many of those fleeing the U.S. take taxis to one rural New York road that ends at the Canadian border, then walk a few yards across vegetation -- in an instant, leaving behind their lives in the U.S. -- and are, as they expect, promptly detained and processed by Canadian authorities. This is the first step in their asylum-claim process. One day last week, a young girl wearing a Hello Kitty backpack over her puffy winter coat was met by an officer after the quick walk -- just one of many children who have come along for the journey.

As shelters overflowed this month, 900 cots were rolled out in Montreal's Olympic stadium for asylum-seekers; 90 percent of the 800 people there last week were Haitian, Cédric Essiminy, a spokesman for the stadium, told ABC News. Nearly 100 Canadian soldiers were deployed to the Quebec border on Wednesday to set up a temporary camp for around 500 people, the Canadian Armed Forces said.

Haitians walking across often have wrong impressions about the likelihood they could stay in Canada in the long term, according to Canadians helping them. Around 60,000 Haitians in the U.S. have been protected from deportation through TPS, which was initiated following the 2010 earthquake that devastated their country. In May, then-U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly extended the program through January, but he suggested he might end it then. “I believe there are indications that Haiti -- if its recovery from the 2010 earthquake continues at pace -- may not warrant further TPS extension past January 2018,” said Kelly, now the White House chief of staff.

While false information has spread over social media and in Haitian diaspora media that Canada would welcome them with open arms, in fact, Canada’s post-earthquake protected status program for Haitians ran out in 2014. Haitians are afforded no special protections in the country, and refugee claims are examined under the same criteria used in the U.S. In 2016, 51.2 percent of Haitians’ claims that were processed were accepted in Canada, according to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, just a few points higher than the United States’ acceptance rate, according to the UNHCR. “It’s true that Canada is welcoming, but in order to stay in Canada as a refugee, you need to have a valid claim, and I’m not sure all of those people crossing the border have valid claims,” Jean-Sébastien Boudreault, president of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association, told ABC News.

Farah Larrieux, a Haitian TV personality in Miramar, Florida, said panic is pushing the spread of erroneous rumors, like a WhatsApp message she received in June saying Canada would cover Haitians’ immigration costs. “There’s a lot of information circulating within the different Haitian communities, in New York, in New Jersey, in south Florida, where they inform people that the Canadian government is waiting to welcome people,” Larrieux, who herself holds temporary protected status in the U.S., told ABC News.

The fear is leading people who are safe in the U.S. for now to put themselves at greater risk. "Some of them, they didn’t know that if they get refused, Canada will send them back to Haiti," Handfield, the immigration lawyer, said. "I’m pretty sure that a lot of them will get refused as refugees in Canada.”

Haitians aren’t the only ones crossing into Canada -- although they were the most common nationality during the first six months of this year, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. Sudanese, Turkish, Eritrean, and American asylum-seekers were also common, the agency said.

Quebec serves as a particular draw to Haitian asylum seekers because of a shared language -- French -- and as the home to 90 percent of the 150,000 Haitians living in Canada, according to Ismé, of La Maison d’Haïti. Most live in the Montreal area, where the community has helped the newcomers find housing, furniture, and healthcare, and is pushing for access to schooling, she told ABC News.

Beuze, the UNHCR representative, said that the numbers so far are “completely manageable” but that it was difficult to predict whether the flood will continue. “Nobody has a crystal ball,” he said. “It’s a very individual decision at the end of the day, to decide to leave everything behind and come to Canada. And it’s not a light one.”

8/17/2017

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

Beads of sweat trickled down her forehead as Carole Wembert dragged one bulky black-and-red suitcase and toted two other bags, the load weighing heavy on both her mind and body as she approached the border crossing. After 15 years in the United States, the Haitian immigrant had quit her job at Walmart in Fort Lauderdale. She packed up her four children, flew 1,200 miles to New York City, took a bus for seven hours and then a taxi before finally reaching the heavily forested spot on the U.S.-Canada border that has become a word-of-mouth entry point to a new life for immigrants.

The future in Canada was uncertain, but she was pretty sure what faced her in the United States: deportation. “The president doesn’t want the immigrants to stay,” Wembert said.

She was repeating the widely held belief among some immigrant groups that President Donald Trump is closing the door to immigrants. Haitians in particular are worried because nearly 60,000 — including Wembert — have been living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the special humanitarian relief given to Haiti since its devastating 2010 earthquake left more than 300,000 dead.

The Trump administration has been increasingly signaling that it may end the status for Haitians in January. That’s fueling an unprecedented exodus of mostly Haitian migrants from the United States across a dirt and gravel-covered ditch in upstate New York to Canada. More than 3,800 migrants have flowed into Quebec during the first two weeks of this month, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Claude Castonguay said during a press conference Thursday. “We’ve never seen such numbers coming in,” Castonguay said.

Carole Wembert and her four children of Fort Lauderdale, cross the border to Canada at the dead end of the U.S. side of Roxham Road on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Thousands of people have crossed over into Canada from an irregular crossing near the Champlain–St. Bernard de Lacolle border in hopes of finding residency in Canada. Among them are Haitians who worry that Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. could soon end under the Trump administration.

In July, police arrested 2,984 near the same illegal crossing. In June, there were just 781 arrests. Wembert said she needed to flee the U.S. to save her children. Three of the four were born in the United States and she says there are no prospects for her children in Haiti. “I don’t want to go with my kids to my country,” Wembert said. “With what am I going to take care of them if I go back?” “I felt that I had no other choice but to come here with my children,” she added.

Rebecca Paul and her baby girl walk across a dirt and gravel path to leave the U.S. and walk across to Canada at Roxham Road on Sunday, August 13, 2017. More than 3,800 asylum seekers have crossed illegally into Canada during the first two weeks of August.

As the illegal flow of Haitian migrants continues into Canada’s French-speaking Quebec province, many families like Wembert’s — with U.S.-born children — could face a painful dilemma, say immigration experts: what to do with their children if they are deported to Haiti. To win an asylum claim in Canada, migrants will have to convince an independent immigration and refugee board that they would be at risk of persecution or even death if they returned to their homeland. Failure to prove it means deportation.

Despite being allowed to enter Canada, many Haitian immigrants aren’t granted asylum. “The success rate for last year, 2016, was 50 percent so you’re facing a very real risk of being refused,” said Richard Goldman, an immigration attorney with the Committee to Aid Refugees in Montreal. “It’s not an easy case to make especially if you’ve been living in the States for many years.”

Even if parents win asylum, their U.S.-born kids will be refused, Goldman said, because they would not be in danger in the U.S. The parents, however, can include the kids in their permanent residence applications so they can remain in Canada. “They have to think, ‘Am I being threatened if I go back to Haiti and can I prove that?’ ” said Francine Dupuis, who oversees PRAIDA, a Quebec government-funded program that supports asylum seekers after their arrival. “If they are not in that situation, if they were only in the States because there was an earthquake and their country is poor, that is not enough to become a refugee. They have to think about that before they cross the border.”

Haitian migrants prepare to cross illegally into Canada at the border along Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y. on Sunday, August 13, 2017. They said fear of deportation under the Trump administration drove them to leave the U.S.

Under a 2002 agreement between Canada and the United States, migrants must apply for refugee status in the first country they arrive in. A migrant crossing into Canada at a regular U.S. border point will be told to turn around and claim refugee status in the United States. But the treaty, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, only applies at land ports-of-entry where border guards can visually confirm that a migrant is entering one country directly from the other.

Over the years, asylum seekers have realized that if they can make it past the border at an illegal entry point, such as the Roxham Road crossing in upstate New York, where there are no border guards, they can request asylum from within Canada. Castonguay said police and the Canada Border Services Agency are seeing “roughly about 250” crossings a day. As the number has grown, so too have the calls for a suspension of the treaty to close the loophole and shut off the flow.

No one is saying how many of the migrants are children and of those, how many are U.S. born. But Patrick Lefort, Canada Border Services Agency regional director general for Quebec, said Thursday that between 85 and 89 percent of the asylum seekers are Haitian. Goldman says the question of U.S.-born children comes up frequently in all asylum cases. And while in the Haitian cases much depends on Haitian law — and whether Haiti is willing to accept the foreign-born children of its citizens — non-Haitian citizens cannot be forcefully deported to Haiti. “They are definitely American citizens ... the parents have an option of having them returned to the States,” he said.

And unless the parents have someone to send their children to in the U.S., Goldman said, “the parents really face an impossible choice because it’s basically either bringing them to Haiti or sending them literally to ... a foster home.” Coming to Canada for safe haven, he said, “is a very risky proposition.”

The migrant camp is expanded by the military located on the Canadian side of the U.S.-Canada border on Saturday, August 12, 2017. Thousands of people have crossed over into Canada from an irregular crossing near the Champlain - St. Bernard-de-Lacolle border in hopes of finding permanent residency. Among them are Haitians who were worried that their Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. could soon end under the Trump administration.

Stéphane Handfield, a Montreal attorney who represents a number of Haitian families who have recently crossed the border, said they’re often surprised when he explains the difficulty of trying to remain legally in Canada. Social media has spread false information that Canada has an open-door policy. “A lot of my clients think that because they are in Canada, they just have to apply for residency status and that status will be granted and they will be able to stay in Canada for the rest of their lives,” he said. “This is not true. They will have to pass through a strict process. ... They will have to convince some board members that their life is still in danger today — 2017, in Haiti — not 10 years ago.”

By the time Wembert arrived at the border crossing on Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, near Saint Bernard-de-Lacolle, Canada, shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday, scores of migrants had already arrived under cover of darkness and were sitting in the white tents that constitute the makeshift reception area.

As her children waited for her to join them on the dirt path that leads to the Canadian side — and into the arms of police, who warn all migrants attempting to illegally cross that they face immediate arrest — 12-year-old daughter Sabine, wearing a pullover sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers and carrying a purple backpack, focused on the new adventures that might lie ahead. She wanted to experience cold weather. “I like snow,” she said. “I like going to a place that’s cold.”

But most of all, she said, her voice turning more serious, they would find “a better life” in Canada. Several mothers, some pushing strollers and others ushering older children while pulling oversized suitcases, passed her. They listened to the police warning and walked on, traversing the few feet into Canada.

In French, police read them their rights. Then they were searched and screened for criminal records. Eventually, they would be bused about five miles to the newly constructed tent citynear the official Lacolle port of entry. They can remain there for up to four days while border agents process them before they are transferred to one of 10 shelters, including the mammoth Olympic Stadium, in Montreal. On Thursday, as many as 1,200 waited in tents to be processed, said Lefort of Border Services.

Panic started to hit Wembert’s household last month after a form letter arrived from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reminding Wembert that her temporary status in the country extended only until January. If TPS is not renewed by the U.S. government, the letter said, Wembert should prepare to return to Haiti. The letter was sent to every one of the United States’ 58,000 Haitian TPS holders who renewed their status.

Children sit together at the border migrant camp at St. Bernard-de-Lacolle in Quebec, Canada. Among the migrants are Haitians who were worried that their Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. could soon end under the Trump administration.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration said post-earthquake conditions in Haiti have improved to the point that it “may not warrant further TPS extension past January 2018,” though a final decision has not yet been made.

That wasn’t enough to give Wembert hope. “My kids’ father died, too, this year,” she said. “ My mother and sister died during the earthquake. ... I don’t have anything in my hands to take care of them.” Wembert said she decided to come to Canada “because I see they want to help us.” On Sunday, as dozens of additional tents built by the Canadian military went up near the border, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau toured the grounds. Thanking soldiers and border agents, he reiterated that migrants shouldn’t misinterpret the hospitality being shown to them by the Canadian government. “There are very clear protocols that are in place that have to be followed as well as the criteria that will determine whether or not we accept asylum seekers. Those are in place and those are very clearly being implemented here in the weeks and months to come,” Garneau said.

Still, some feel that the migrant surge is testing Canada’s welcome, and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who earlier this year announced on Twitter that Canada will take refugees banned by Trump, has fostered a lax government response. Critics argue that the government is encouraging migrants — not just from Haiti but also from Colombia, Mexico, Africa and the Middle East — to take advantage.

“The folks coming across the border are asylum shopping,” said Carlo Dade, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and Global Studies. “Their first choice, the U.S., didn’t work out so now they’re trying Canada. Relatives are feeding them the lines to give to immigration and the immigration consultants and lawyers are queuing up to cash in. There is no human rights case with these folks. Haiti today is not the Haiti of a decade ago, let alone two decades ago, and it’s not Syria or Venezuela.”

Ricky Caya, a resident of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec, thinks the government has taken its “open and welcoming” immigration policy too far. A postal worker who lives 40 minutes from the border, he had driven across to Champlain to buy cheaper gas Sunday and decided to check out the Roxham Road crossing. As he watched several migrants file into the reception center operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Caya, 42, said, “Everyone in the world is going to see this and say, ‘OK, I’ve got a free ticket to Canada.’

“Most of the Canadian people want to help, are willing to help — but people who need help. People that can’t afford food here are not supposed to help people who come in with iPads and gold chains,” he said. The fear of Trump ending TPS for Haiti has others scared, too. More than 300,00 people from nine other countries, including Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, also have been granted the special immigration status. Some Canadians are now wondering whether those groups will start showing up at the border. “They are fleeing the United States because of Donald Trump’s supposed politics, but I don’t think there is any danger to their lives here in America,” Caya said.

For Carole Wembert, walking across the border was deceptively easy. Then she realized that one of her children had left a suitcase behind. The large gray bag stood in the middle of the road, steps from where she stood on the Canadian side. Wembert pointed and asked a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer if she could run back and grab it.

He shook his head and told her: You can’t go back to the U.S. A Haitian mother with her two children prepare to cross illegally into Canada from Roxham Road in upstate New York on Sunday, August 13, 2017. More than 3,800 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada during the first two weeks of August at the irregular. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

 

Reuters

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Allison Lampert

The number of asylum seekers who illegally crossed the U.S. border into Canada more than tripled last month, according to Canadian government data released on Thursday, as migrants worried about the U.S. administration's immigration crackdown head north. More than 3,100 people walked across the border illegally in July to file refugee claims and were arrested, up from 884 in June, the federal government said. Ninety-six percent of them went to Quebec, where an influx of asylum seekers, primarily Haitians, is sparking a backlash from opposition politicians and anti-immigrant groups in the primarily French-speaking province. In the first 15 days of August, an additional 3,800 asylum seekers were arrested crossing the U.S. border into Quebec, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. More than 1,000 people are living in tents and government facilities at a Lacolle, Quebec border crossing across from upstate New York. "It's not a crisis. It's a situation that is extraordinary. But it's well-managed," Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters in Lacolle on Thursday.

Canada is struggling to house and provide social assistance for the influx of asylum seekers as its refugee system faces the worst delays in years. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which is responsible for hearing all asylum claims, has redeployed resources to deal with the Quebec arrivals. "The IRB had to make adjustments to be in a position to respond to the current situation that is clearly unsustainable," spokeswoman Anna Pape said in an email. Canada has launched a campaign to counter misinformation about the country's refugee policy, which is believed to be one reason for the influx of refugees. "Asking for asylum in Canada is not a guarantee for permanent residence in Canada, and it's extremely important we stress that," immigration ministry spokesman Louis Dumas told reporters.

Conservative parliamentarian Michelle Rempel, her party's immigration critic, said the government steps are a "band aid" solution. "This situation started with Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau's irresponsible tweets and he has a responsibility to fix it," Rempel said in a statement, referring to January tweets Trudeau sent touting Canada's welcome of refugees after a U.S. travel ban was unveiled.

A Trudeau spokesman said the government has been consistent on the issue of refugees: "Canada welcomes immigrants ... that said, there are laws and processes in place for people seeking asylum and our government is sending a clear message." Many of the most recent asylum seekers arriving in Quebec have been Haitians who face looming deportation from the United States when their temporary protected status expires in January 2018.

Canada ended its own ban on deportations to Haiti last summer. In the first quarter of this year, almost two-thirds of Haitian refugee claims were rejected, according to government figures.

The spike in asylum seekers has sparked protests by anti-migrant groups who say Canada is being soft on law-breakers. The Montreal suburb of Boucherville has received dozens of messages on social media denouncing the asylum seekers, some of whom are being housed at a former seniors’ home in the quiet suburb, according to local media reports. Montreal, Quebec's biggest city, opened its Olympic Stadium to house the arrivals.

Sylvain Brouillette, a spokesman for right-wing extremist group La Meute, which is organizing a Quebec City protest on Sunday, said his group is protesting the "policies of the Trudeau government toward illegal immigration."

Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Allison Lampert; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Dan Grebler

By Mike Blanchfield

The Canadian Press

Aug 27, 2017

Their lives changed in an instant that July day when the government letter arrived telling them that her work permit was not being renewed. For five years, Sheila Francois lived, worked and paid her taxes in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to help support her three teenaged children. When she and husband, Frank, read that letter — no renewal and no explanation — they knew their life in the United States was over. "If you have status and you see that immigration stops it, right away you think one thing — deportations," says 44-year-old Frank Francois. "The minute we saw that happen and as we are watching the news, we saw Canada taking people, we said, 'we might as well take a chance'."

The Francois family are among nearly 7,000 asylum seekers — most of them Haitian — who have flooded across the Quebec-New York state border since mid-July when the Trump administration announced it might end their "temporary protected status" which was granted following Haiti's massive 2010 earthquake. They are among the first few hundred the government has relocated to this eastern Ontario processing centre.

Few here have heard of Justin Trudeau and no one says they saw his now controversial January Twitter message welcoming immigrants facing persecution. The tweet was heavily criticized by the Conservative opposition for sparking the American exodus. But many here say they uprooted their new American lives because of something more primal: they were driven by fear of the anti-immigration politics of President Donald Trump. "I decided to come to Canada because the politics of migration in the United States changed," says Haitian-born Justin Remy Napoleon, 39. "I was scared. I came here to continue my life."

Like Frank Francois, Napoleon says he feared deportation over Trump's policy shift, so he left his adopted home in San Diego, flew to the eastern seaboard and boarded a bus for the northern border. It wasn't the first time he decided to start over in another country. He left Haiti in 2006 for the Dominican Republic and then went to Brazil. Napoleon says he dreamed of coming to Canada from as far back as his time in Haiti. When he crossed the border earlier this month, "I thought I was entering a paradise."

Jean-Pierre Kidmage, 43, took a three-day bus ride from Miami to New York before taking a taxi across the border. He says he doesn't know much about Canada but he's heard good things. He hit the road because he was worried the Trump administration would deport him.

He's been here less than two weeks, but he wants to stay. "I sleep well here. Better here than in the U.S." Lingering unease is palpable outside Cornwall's Nav Centre, where they are being temporarily housed. Young men and women, some with children, pace the grounds, their eyes trained on mobile phones. More than a dozen adults politely decline interviews.

Some await taxis to take them into town to shop. A few roll suitcases towards a handful of cars and minivans bearing Quebec licence plates that periodically arrive during the day. The new arrivals here are free to go once they have registered their claims and officials say most are headed to Montreal.

Now, more than a month and 2,550 kilometres after leaving his most recent home, Frank Francois sits on a bench in warm sunshine. He won't be photographed, but he's happy to discuss what has been a life of epic migration. It has been a life of running — from his native Haiti in 1997 to the Bahamas and from America to Canada.

He grew up on a farm in Port-de-Paix, the oldest of three brothers and four sisters. He yearned to become a doctor after high school, but there was no way his family could afford the $13,000 in tuition, so he got a visa to the Bahamas. Soon, he began working construction jobs, sending some of his earnings home. "Once you make money to pay your bills, you can help the people that you left behind in Haiti."

He built his own family in the Bahamas. That's where his three teenagers were born. His family spent a decade and a half there until more bad news arrived in the mail: the government informed him of a new law that called for the immediate expulsion of anyone who'd been in the country as a visitor for more than 10 years. "Hard! Everywhere," he laughs.

His family re-established itself in Fort Lauderdale, near Miami, where Sheila had relatives. She went first with the three children, got visas, her work permit and set the kids up in school. Her husband got a visa and joined them in 2012.

He stayed after it expired and periodically found under-the-table work in construction, but it wasn't easy. "It's hard when you don't have a legal status, to survive and work for your families."  The children went to school, made friends and the family got on with life in a rented apartment. Now, aged 13, 14 and 15, the Francois children have become extremely aware of the changing political climate in the U.S.

"Every day, they say, 'Daddy, every time we watch the news we don't see any policy that the president (has) that's in our favour.' They were afraid to face deportations." Then, when their mother's rejection letter came, the kids weighed in again. "My children said, 'Daddy, we were born in the Bahamas' — this is their words — 'we think Canada can help us.' "They said, 'Daddy, let's go to Canada — find our way out'."

Now, his family's fate rests on receiving one more piece of official government correspondence: a notice that they qualify to have their asylum claim heard. That would start a process that will allow his children to go to school and for him to get a work permit. "All I want Canadians to know about me is I am a working man," he says. "I'm looking for work and I'm looking for better education for my children. I want my children to be educated so they can help themselves. You understand?

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

AUGUST 27, 2017 7

The Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages promising safe haven in Canada claim to have the blessing of the Canadian government. Creole-language radio stations offer up consultants giving free and paid consultations for Haitians seeking residency across the U.S. border. Border cities such as Montreal are welcoming immigrants with open arms, or so the stories go.

Haitians in the U.S. — fearful of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants but unwilling to return to the grinding poverty of their homeland — have responded by the thousands. They’ve quit their jobs, sold their possessions and taken planes, Greyhound buses and even taxis to the U.S.-Canada border.

Haitian migrants living in the US prepare to cross the US and Canadian border along Roxham Road on Friday, August 11, 2017. Thousands of Haitians have crossed over in to Canada from an irregular crossing near the Champlain-St. Bernard de Lacolle border in hopes of finding residency in Canada.

The number of migrants illegally crossing into French-speaking Quebec more than tripled in July, with another 3,800-plus entering in just the first half of this month. And now Canada is aggressively trying to stem the flow and dispel the myths that have triggered an unprecedented exodus of mostly Haitian asylum seekers.

Public service announcements have been drawn up in English, French and Creole. Canadian consulates across the U.S. have been mobilized. And on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispatched his nation’s only Haiti-born parliamentarian, Emmanuel Dubourg, to Miami, home to the largest concentration of Haitians in the U.S.

Armed with the Creole language and his own personal tale of migrating to Canada from Haiti four decades earlier, Dubourg was clear everywhere he went: There is no new immigration program for Haitians in Canada.

“It’s not true that Canada is wide open,” Dubourg said, as he visited Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Center Complex ahead of a closed-door meeting with nearly two dozen Haitian community leaders and immigration advocates at nearby Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church. “Crossing the border...is no free pass.”

CARL JUSTE cjuste@miamiherald.com

Some asylum seekers have cited Temporary Protected Status, the special humanitarian program for Haitians that the Trump administration has signaled may end in January, as their reason for fleeing north. But Dubourg blamed “misinformation circulating” on social media for the influx.

“People are looking for ways to help themselves and their families,” he said, “so they are, I would say, kind of desperate [and] are willing to accept that information.”

One such message in French circulated among Haitians last month on WhatsApp. It read: “The Consul of Canada in the USA held a meeting in New Jersey for more than two hours. It invites and even encourages all Haitians (with or without TPS) to apply for a Canadian residence.”

It even provided a phone number to someone purporting to be a Creole-speaking attorney, Max L. Jean-Louis, along with a line: “The fees will be reduced by the Canadian government. Inform yourself and good luck.” But the number doesn’t work.

Claudia Roger, a Haitian national who lives in Alpharetta, Georgia, said she shared the message on a WhatsApp group because she believed it was a legitimate answer to many people’s prayers. She was surprised to learn otherwise. “A lot of people are having this TPS problem and they don’t know where to turn,” she said. “That’s not good. They are taking advantage of it... [People] are desperate and they are scared.”

Even Dubourg, in Miami to tell Haitians that the rumors aren’t true, was startled to see a Facebook post advertising a Sept. 9 meeting at the Evangelical Crusade Christian Church in Brooklyn, NY. The post claims in Creole that a “Canadian Border, Canadian immigration lawyer” will lead a talk on immigration.

“No one has been mandated to leave Canada to come discuss how someone can enter the country,” Dubourg said. “This is truly a racket.” This is a Facebook in Creole post advertising a meeting with Canadian border and immigration officials for Sept. 9 in New York. Canadian officials say no one has been dispatched to come discuss immigration matters.

The church’s pastor did not return a phone call from the Miami Herald seeking information about the meeting. Dubourg said the Canadian government has launched an investigation to uncover who is behind the push to send Haitians north. Haitian leaders in Miami and New York also believe there’s a profit motive.

“I have Haitian people in New York in my district stopping me on the streets, coming to my office to share with me their decision to go to Montreal, Canada, because they believe that Canada has opened the door for them,” said New York City Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who visited Montreal last week to meet with Haitian leaders about the influx. “Some of them say they heard that Canada is accepting Haitian people with TPS. Some tell me that their friends are already in Canada, family members are already there, and are telling them, ‘You have to come over because they received this, or they received that and Canada is going to give them authorization to stay,’ ” Eugene said.

Eugene said he tells them the fight for a renewal of TPS beyond the January expiration date is continuing. “They don’t want to hear it,” he said. “It’s very difficult to change their minds.” When he visited Haitian asylum seekers at a shelter in Montreal, Eugene said it became clear that many had made a rash decision. “They were asking me questions, ‘What’s going to happen? Are they going to send us back to the U.S.? Are they going to give us the authorization to stay?’ ” he said. “They don’t understand the situation....You see a bunch of them, men and women, trying to understand, trying to figure out the situation. This is something serious.”

As Dubourg wrapped up his visit Friday, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, also speaking at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, renewed his call for an 18-month extension of TPS. The illegal migration to Canada by Haitian TPS-holders, Nelson said, was “another reason why the administration should extend, right now, the Temporary Protected Status for the 60,000 Haitians that are here, so they don't feel like they have to flee to Mexico or flee to Canada in order not to have to go back to Haiti."

Haitian migrants living in the US prepare to cross the US and Canadian border along Roxham Road on Friday, August 11, 2017. Thousands of Haitians have crossed over in to Canada from an irregular crossing near the Champlain-Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border in hopes of finding residency in Canada.

The steady stream of asylum seekers —10,000 since the beginning of the year — sweeping into Quebec has strained government resources, with the military being called out earlier this month to build a tent city along the official border crossing of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle after Montreal’s gigantic Olympic Stadium was opened to shelter refugees.

With some Canadians now questioning the integrity of their immigration system in the wake of the surge, an intergovernmental task force on the topic met for the second time last week. Days before the meeting, Trudeau signaled a slightly tougher immigration stance than he had earlier.

Canada, he said, remains a “welcoming and open” society to those fleeing persecution and in need of protection but “we are also a country of laws. Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage. There are rigorous immigration and customs rules that will be followed. Make no mistake.”

Haitian-Canadian Member of Parliament Emmanuel Dubourg visits Miami to get help with recent Haitian migration surge hitting Canada. In Miami, Dubourg stopped just short of saying that Haitians should not go to Canada. But North Miami Councilman Alix Desulme said the message was clear. “I think their recommendation is for Haitians to go through the legal process to go to Canada and they are not encouraging Haitians to come in illegally into the country,” he said.

Marleine Bastien, a local Haitian leader, said it’s very difficult to tell people not to go as they struggle with anxiety over the future of TPS. “When people are in a burning house and they are running, you cannot tell them where to run to,” said Bastien, who like Eugene hasn’t had much luck in convincing Haitians with TPS not to flee. “They are running because they fear President Trump will not keep his promise and deport them like criminals.”

Migrants, sheltered in tents wait for food distribution near the Canada-US border in St. Bernard de Lacolle on Saturday, August 12, 2017. Thousands of people have crossed over in to Canada from an irregular crossing near the Champlain-Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border in hopes of finding residency in Canada. Among them are Haitians who worry that Temporary Protected Status in the US could soon end under the Trump administration.

She, too, believes that Haitians are being being preyed on by criminals seeking a quick buck. “But instead of trying to find the source of this, it’s best for Canada to develop a process so that these Haitians who are getting there are able to state their claim,” Bastien said. “Canada needs to make sure their basic rights to due process are respected, put a moratorium on deportations back to Haiti and look at this accord with the U.S.”

The accord, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, forces those seeking asylum to do so in the first country they land in. But there’s a loophole. If migrants cross at an unofficial border crossing without a border agent — as many are doing in upstate New York — they can request asylum from Canada.

There was one indication, however, that Dubourg’s message may be having an impact. After Dubourg left the Miami studios of popular Creole-language radio host Nelson “Piman Bouk” Voltaire, the host told his huge audience of listeners something they might not want to hear.

“Haitians, do not go to Canada,” he said, calling on those with TPS to wait to see what the Trump administration decides. “I know a lot of people aren’t going to be happy with me saying this. But why would you leave the rain to go jump in the river? Stay and wait.” Canada has a policy in place to consider accepting those fleeing violence, persecution, or that are considered unacceptable in their country, says Canadian Minister of Transport Marc Garneau.

 

Reuters

By Anna Mehler Paperny

Canada has granted refugee status to about 10 percent of the 298 Haitian border crossers whose applications have been processed this year, according to government data released on Wednesday. That could bode ill for the 6,000 Haitians still in the refugee queue who illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border by foot fearing that U.S. President Donald Trump would revoke their Temporary Protected Status. And it may discourage more from illegally crossing into Canada after the U.S. government on Monday said it would end protected status for nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the United States in July 2019.

Of the 298 Haitian applications processed so far this year, 68 were abandoned by the asylum seekers, which means they did not turn up for their hearings, the data released from the Immigration and Refugee Board showed. Another 62 withdrew their applications, according to the data from the quasi-judicial body whose tribunals determine refugee claims. Montreal-based refugee lawyer Eric Taillefer said he thinks the Haitians who already made the border crossing did not understand Canadian laws on granting asylum. “They don’t understand the evidence threshold, they don’t understand, maybe, the definition of a refugee,” he said.

The Canadian government has dispatched parliamentarians to talk to U.S. diaspora communities and dispel myths around Canada’s immigration and refugee systems. Haiti-born politician Emmanuel Dubourg was in New York City this week. The high rates of abandoned claims could be because asylum seekers had trouble navigating the system and were not aware they needed to show up at a hearing, Taillefer said.

Haitians are among some 17,000 asylum seekers who have walked across the border into Canada so far this year. Border crossers from other countries fared better, with 46 percent of Nigerian claims accepted, and 94 percent of Turkish people and 88 percent of Syrians approved.

The stream of people crossing the border has eased since August, when there were hundreds each day, but Canadian authorities are planning for more people in the winter months. The federal government is paying a Quebec company C$1.2 million to set up heated trailers to accommodate up to 200 people at a temporary encampment where asylum seekers have been staying while they await processing by the Canada Border Services Agency.

Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Jim Finkle and Diane Craft

Al Jazeera

by Jillian Kestler-D'Amours

Canada is preparing for new waves of asylum seekers from the United States, a trend local groups say is being fuelled by the Trump administration's recent decisions to end visa protection for foreign nationals from countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. Thousands of asylum seekers - many of whom were from Haiti - have already walked across the border into the province of Quebec without visas since the start of the year to make asylum claims in Canada.

On November 20, the Trump administration announced it would lift Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals, who will now have 18 months - until July 22, 2019 - to formalise their status in the US or leave the country.

 

That decision will lead to a new wave of arrivals at the US-Canada border, said Frantz Andre of the Non-Status Action Committee, a community group in Montreal that supports newcomers from Haiti. "The new wave has already started," Andre told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Asylum seekers already living in the US cannot make their claims for protection in Canada at a formal border crossing because of a bilateral agreement between the two countries, the Safe Third Country Agreement. That deal makes it impossible for asylum seekers who first land in the US, and whose demands for protection are denied, to seek asylum in Canada, and vice-versa.

That has pushed families to cross into Canada on foot; once they are in the country, they can have their asylum claim heard. According to Andre, while the Canadian government has said it is preparing to handle a new influx of irregular border crossings, the system is still "improvised". "We're again denouncing this lack of a system to treat each request ... in a way that will be efficient and really give a chance to the asylum seeker," he told Al Jazeera. "Currently, that's not the case."

In the US, TPS visas were extended to foreign nationals living in the country who the government decided could not safely return to their home countries due to war, violence, natural disasters and other reasons. As of October, 437,000 foreign nationals from 10 countries held TPS immigration status.

This week, Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced the US had determined that Haitians who received TPS coverage after a 2010 earthquake devastated the country and led to a humanitarian crisis, could safely return home. "Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens," the department said in a statement.  "Haiti has also demonstrated a commitment to adequately prepare for when the country’s TPS designation is terminated."

The Haiti decision comes after the US announced it would lift TPS coverage for about 2,500 Nicaraguans, who will now have until January 5, 2019, to leave the country. About 57,000 Hondurans with TPS visas are also living in limbo, as the US government said it would extend their coverage until July while it makes a final decision on their coverage under the programme.

The US government created uncertainty in Haitian communities in the US earlier this year when it hinted that TPS may be cancelled for Haitians as early as January 2018. As rumours swirled about pending deportations, thousands of Haitians fled to the Canada-US border.

More than 5,500 people crossed into Quebec without permits in August, many of them Haitians, according to Canadian police figures. Overall, more than 15,000 people have crossed the border irregularly to claim refugee status in Canada so far this year, Reuters reported. "Under the law, anyone claiming asylum in Canada has the right to due process," said Remi Lariviere, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the federal department of immigration. "However, there are no guarantees that an asylum seeker will be allowed to stay in Canada at the end of this process," Lariviere told Al Jazeera in an email.

In September, 5,390 asylum seekers crossed into Canada irregularly, according to data collected by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), an independent body that rules on asylum and refugee claims. Of the 177 refugee claims that were finalised that month, 114 were accepted, IRB figures show. That's an acceptance rate of 64.4 percent.

A tweet posted by Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, earlier this year also gave many families hope that they would easily be granted asylum once they reached Canada "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you," Trudeau wrote.u

To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada

However, the newcomers quickly saw they would have to begin a new and lengthy immigration process on the Canadian side of the border. "These people find themselves in an overloaded [immigration] system," Andre said.  Canada ended its temporary deportation protection - known as a Temporary Suspension of Removals - for Haitians in 2014, citing improved conditions in the country. Since then, acceptance rates for Haitian nationals' asylum claims in Canada have remained low.

In 2016, only 50 percent of finalised asylum applications were granted to Haitian claimants, up from 40 percent in 2015, according to IRB figures.

Andre told Al Jazeera that activists are calling for Canada to give refugee claimants two years to properly prepare and file their applications. That will allow the government to set up a better system, he said, and "take away some of the anguish and the stress" families are feeling as they navigate the immigration system.

When they cross into Canada, asylum seekers are first intercepted by the RCMP, Canada's federal police. When they say they want to apply for asylum or refugee status, they will be transferred to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) for an interview on their eligibility.

If deemed eligible, they will then be released pending an interview with the IRB. Asylum seekers can prove a need for protection based on several criteria, including religious, racial or political persecution. Gloria Nafziger, a refugee campaigner at Amnesty International Canada, told Al Jazeera the human rights group expects "ongoing arrivals" at the border, but "it's just impossible to know how large that [number is] going to get". She said the arrivals appear to be fuelled by US immigration policy announcements, "which make people feel insecure". "They look for options, and Canada is one of those options," Nafziger said.

Amnesty is calling on Canada to rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement, which would allow people to make asylum claims at a formal border crossing and avoid potential dangers of crossing on foot, she said. "Particularly as winter comes and people may try to take more dangerous routes into Canada, the risks increase substantially," Nafziger said.

After the first major waves of asylum seekers began arriving, Ottawa sent MPs to the US to discourage would-be refugee claimants - especially those from Haiti and Nicaragua, who have been impacted by the TPS decisions - from attempting to come to Canada.  That outreach appears to be continuing and Lariviere said Ottawa is "in continuous contact" with the US government on this issue. He said the federal government is "aware that the potential exists for more people crossing the border". "To be clear, entering illegally is not a 'free ticket' into Canada," Lariviere said. "There are rigorous immigration and customs rules to be followed - and make no mistake - we enforce them to safeguard our communities against security risks."

David Heurtel, Quebec immigration minister, is expected to attend a meeting with representatives of the federal government on Thursday in Ottawa to discuss the issue. While he told French-language Montreal newspaper La Presse that Quebec "does not expect a new wave [of asylum seekers] right away", Heurtel said the province "will do everything [it] can to limit a surprise".

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