In March, the US and Canada struck a deal to stem the flow of asylum seekers entering from the U.S. It worked – for a short time.
CTV News Canada reported that U.S. President Joe Biden and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced changes to the 20-year-old Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) on Friday, March 24, 2023.
Biden and Trudeau – in signing the agreement – closed a loophole that had existed since the act was signed in 2002. Since 2017, asylum-seekers, knowing they would be turned back at the official borders tried to avoid the legal checkpoints. That was the loophole.
Fast-forward five months later and the overall number of people filing refugee claims in Canada has risen instead of falling. Many now come by air, while others sneak across the border and hide until they can apply for asylum without fear of being sent back, people working with migrants told Reuters.
Last year alone, nearly 40,000 asylum seekers entered Canada via unofficial crossings, twice as many as in 2017, – mostly into Quebec via a dirt path off Roxham Road in New York, prompting the province to complain it could not handle the arrivals.
“The basic reality is that closing a border doesn’t do anything to solve the need for protection,” said Shauna Labman, an associate professor and acting director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Winnipeg.
At least part of the reason for the latest influx is that Canada is among a shrinking group of countries seen as offering safe harbor while pressures of war, climate change, and human rights violations force a greater number to flee, some migrant experts say, according to US News.
The European Union, for example, recently introduced an asylum-seeker pact allowing nations to send back some migrants. Britain’s government is pushing forward on a law making it easier to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, while U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has introduced a rule making it harder for migrants to receive asylum if they cross U.S. borders illegally.
Reuters spoke with 10 people seeking refugee status who recently arrived in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. They came from Sudan, Uganda and Mexico, among other places. All arrived by plane, with valid visas in hand. Some filed refugee claims days or weeks after their arrival.
Though they left for reasons ranging from domestic violence to war, the common draw for all was Canada’s reputation for protecting human rights and providing refuge.