Canada’s New Refugee Influx: Is Trump’s Immigration Ban Placing Refugees at Risk?

The American and Canadian border on the Rainbow Bridge downstream from Niagara Falls. Photographed from the Canadian side.

Like earlier attempts to restrict refugee flows into the US, an unintended outcome of Trump’s immigration ban has been to further jeopardize the safety and lives of already vulnerable refugees. Over the past two decades, the US Customs and Border Patrol have increasingly cracked down on undocumented border crossings between the US and Mexico. The wall that separates the two countries and increased surveillance has pushed many migrants to enter through hazardous areas such as deserts or mountains. Frequently, individuals are poorly prepared for the hardships of these locations, with an average of 200 deaths amongst would-be migrants recorded yearly since 1998. In response, the joint US-Mexico Border Safety Initiative (BSI) was established to reduce injuries and fatalities along the border.

An eerily similar problem has been playing out on the US-Canadian border in recent months. Rather than the heat of the Arizona desert, poorly prepared migrants are facing the cold of the Canadian border and risking frostbite and hypothermia during winter as they cross into Canada. The small town of Emerson, Manitoba, has seen the number of refugees crossing from North Dakota increase, and is ill-prepared to cope with the numbers. Similar increases in undocumented border crossings are occurring elsewhere along the Canadian-US border.

While refugee crossings are not new, the number of migrants crossing into Canada has been steadily increasing over the past few weeks, with many placing themselves at risk as they try to enter Canada. Many entered the US either legally and then over-stayed, or entered illegally, hoping to seek refugee status in the US but ultimately denied. Fearing deportation back to their home country and for their safety there, they then transit through the US to Canada.  In the week’s leading up to Trump’s inauguration, the number of undocumented crossings into Canada increased dramatically. Further, a growing concern is that President Trump’s restriction on immigration and refugee flows and broader anti-immigrant sentiments that found voice during the American Presidential campaign will lead to a continued increase in the numbers risking a border crossing, as individuals realize that there is no home for them in the US.

A critical piece is where these individuals are crossing into Canada. Rather than presenting themselves to Canadian officials at border crossings, they are entering the country outside of the legal crossings, a direct outcome of the Safe Third Country agreement between the US and Canada. Signed in 2004, the agreement was designed to prevent ‘asylum shopping’ and means that a migrant arriving via the US can’t claim asylum in Canada at the border crossing, and vice-versa. In effect, the agreement encourages crossing outside of the legal entry points, as they would be denied entry at legal crossings and returned to the other side. Critics have called the Safe Third Country policy discriminatory, with others calling for the termination of the agreement following Trump’s immigration ban given the increased risk to potential refugees, with calls reinforced by a new report by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic argued that the US is no longer a “safe” country for refugees.

Further Reading:

Jason Markusoff. In Emerson, Man., asylum-seekers find love and fear. Macleans, 7 February 2017. Article available at: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/fear-and-love-of-asylum-seekers-in-a-manitoba-town/

David Nixon. Manitoba town pleads for federal help with refugee influx. The Globe and Mail, 7 February 2017. Article available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/manitoba-community-seeing-influx-of-border-jumpers-since-trump-order/article33946647/

Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. The Impact of President Trump’s Executive Orders on Asylum Seekers, 8 February 2017. Available at: https://today.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Report-Impact-of-Trump-Executive-Orders-on-Asylum-Seekers.pdf

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