Military builds camp to house surge of asylum seekers at Quebec border

CBC News

The Canadian military is building a camp near the United States border to accommodate the influx of asylum seekers crossing into Quebec.

The camp will accommodate up to 500 people in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., and will consist of “modular tent shelters with floors, lighting and heating,” the Armed Forces said in a statement Wednesday.

The announcement comes as authorities struggle to handle a surge in people coming to Quebec at unofficial crossings such Roxham Road. The RCMP has already set up a tent at the crossing to deal with the arrivals.   

The majority of the soldiers will return to their home bases once the site is completed, the Forces said.

It also said the military personnel will have no role in security matters and will not participate in law-enforcement tasks.

Patrick Lefort, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, said there are currently 700 people waiting to be processed who have crossed at Roxham Road.

He said the wait is two to three days and there are currently no beds, just benches and chairs.

Logistical challenges

Authorities are also facing logistical challenges in providing schooling, accommodation and other services once asylum seekers get to Montreal.

The cavernous Olympic Stadium is already being used to house people, but it will not be available as of next month, officials said at a news conference.

The city’s old Royal Victoria Hospital, which closed in 2015, will also be opened up to new arrivals.

Royal-Vic old building visual

The old Royal Victoria Hospital will be used to house asylum seekers. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Francine Dupuis, who oversees PRAIDA, the provincial organization that helps asylum seekers in their first months, said the building will accommodate an additional 320 people.

Dupuis told the news conference the situation is under control — and not all the shelters are full yet — but that more space was needed to accommodate the continued influx.

Haitian ministers visit Montreal

Many of the recent refugee claimants crossing into Quebec are Haitians who have been living in America for years but now face deportation.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would not be extending temporary protection status for Haitian nationals past January, when it’s set to expire.

Crossing to Canada

A family from Haiti haul their luggage down Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

It was granted after the 2010 earthquake, but now the Department of Homeland Security considers Haiti to be a safe country.

The Haitian government sent two representatives to Montreal in light of the situation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue and Stéphanie Auguste, minister for nationals living abroad, arrived in Montreal Tuesday afternoon to meet with Mayor Denis Coderre.

Immigration Canada said the number of asylum seekers crossing illegally near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing has quadrupled in the past two weeks from about 50 a day to 200 a day.

Montreal’s French-language school board is also gearing up to start enrolling children in classes by the end of the month.


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