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The other side of Roxham Road: Canada grapples with border refugees

NCPR – by Lorne Matalon

Washington has ended a temporary residency program for almost 60,000 Haitians allowed to legally enter the United States following an earthquake in 2010. The affected Haitians will have to leave the U.S. by 2019. The program has also been revoked for 2,000 Nicaraguans and it’s unclear if other groups including 300,000 Salvadorans will be allowed to remain. The net result is a continued flow of people crossing the border into Canada by foot.

They are taking advantage of a footnote in a Canada-U.S. treaty that says foot crossers won’t be turned back from Canada until their case is heard. 

After cresting this past summer, the story continues to unfold at places like Roxham Road, north of Champlain in upstate New York. The United States Border Patrol in Swanton, Verrmont says illegal crossings on foot into Canada are also taking place there. Only now, before they cross on foot, people like Mansour, a 37-year-old engineer from Yemen, are met by a group of women, Canadians and Americans, that includes Janet McFetridge of Champlain.

“Do you need any warm socks?” asked McFetridge asked Mansour. “No I have some in my luggage. Thank you. God bless you,” he replied.

Mansour then gazed for an instant at the border. He said he’d traveled for two days from North Carolina to reach the northern border. His eyes were sullen, his expression gloomy, and he moved slowly. His said his U.S. work visa is scheduled to expire in two months. He said he can’t contemplate the risk of returning to war-torn Yemen. “(There is) suffering and it is an unsafe place,” he said.

Mansour started walking slowly but deliberately on the final steps to the border with Canada. Canadian police tried to stop him and a family of five Nigerians. “This is Canada, right? If you cross the line here, you’ll be arrested for illegal entry,” the officer stated from the Canadian side.

“Do you understand?” The group said they did. They then crossed and were arrested.

A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said crossings take place on daily basis. A few minutes later, a Haitian man stepped out of taxi that brought him from the bus station in Plattsburgh. There is large Haitian community in Montréal and he has friends there, he said. I asked him about conditions in his country.

“Very difficult,” he replied. He said Haiti hasn’t nearly recovered from the earthquake, and the country’s plagued by large-scale floods, the most recent in November. “My life, I almost lose my life. So I look for a place to go,” he said.

More than 9000 people seeking refugee status entered the Province of Quebec alone between August and November 1. By comparison, just over 2400 crossed by foot into all of Canada last year, something Janet McFetridge sees every day.

“I’m just overwhelmed by the numbers that are going through in little community up here in Champlain,” said Janet McFetridge.

People are crossing here and in Vermont because of a curious legal paradox known as the Safe Third Country Agreement. It’s a treaty with the U.S. that says if you make a claim for refugee status at a legal border crossing into Canada, you’ll be sent back because the US is considered safe for refugees. But if you can somehow cross into Canada illegally, the treaty doesn’t apply and you can remain in Canada while your case is decided, a process that can take years.

“I’m not sure that going to Canada is the best decision for all of them,” said McFetridge. But I just think it’s very, very unfortunate that people are leaving our country to go into a future (with) certainly no guarantees. And many of them are going to be deported into terrible situations. I just wish we could help them more here.”

Canada has increased deportations of would-be refugees this year. McFetridge hands out gloves and hats with her friend Wendy Ayotte from Havelock, Quebec, a village of 750 people on the Canadian side of border. Ayotte is unwavering in her opposition to the Safe Third Country Agreement.

“We want the Safe Third Country suspended or annulled altogether because we don’t think the States are safe for refugees anymore,” Ayotte stated.

She is not alone. Calls in Canada to cancel the agreement are growing. More than 200 lawyers along with law students have been gathering evidence to mount a legal case against it. Amnesty International has also called for an end to the treaty.

“I think we are all shocked by the numbers,” said Eric Taillefer, a member of the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers.

In his office in Montréal, Taillefer said allowing refugees to apply at a legal crossing would allow Canada to focus more on security, because presumably someone with, for example, links terrorism would not consider a legal crossing.

“Then if you cross in somewhere else, we could ask the question. ‘Why did you cross this way? Are you a security risk?”

On the border at Roxham Road, a man from Burundi told an RCMP officer that he can’t return to the African nation. “They going to kill us over there,” he said in a voice raised so that the officer could hear him clearly.

Even after crossing, the process of getting admitted permanently to Canada is uncertain at best. People keep coming illegally, however, because while their claim for refugee status proceeds, they know they will at least be safe.


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3 Responses to The other side of Roxham Road: Canada grapples with border refugees

  1. Jolly Roger says:

    Instead of “grappling” with them, hack off their goddamn heads, affix the severed heads to the ends of long sticks, and decorate the border with them like Chinese lanterns.

    That’s the ONLY way you’re going to stop the “refugees” from coming.

    Same here with the wetbacks. I don’t give a crap how many of them are starving in Mexico. That’s their problem.

    If I starve here, does it give me any right to demand that the Rockefellers feed me? Can I force my way into their house for dinner if I’m hungry, or would that be considered a crime?

    I don’t even want the wetbacks deported anymore. I think I’d rather mow the bastards down, because it’s the only way of stopping them from forcing their way into this country to steal stuff and rape children.

    Matter of fact, I think we should genocide the Mexicans. End this problem once and for all by killing every last one of them. Invade their country to finish the job.

  2. Enemy of the State says:

    Jolly and Martist
    I get what your saying
    but in reality our problem isnt the humans, the people..the problem is with Policy, and DC..thats where our anger needs to be sent

    these people wouldn’t even be, or come here if our “so called benevolent” government wasn’t allowing it , or making it easy for them ..ie.. money subsistence welfare, turning a blind eye.. etc

    as we well know..if they dont want WE the People of this country to do something , they find a way to try and stop it..well .. they aint trying to stop this infiltration of our country for a reason ..they want these people flooding our country ..these people have gotten INVITATIONS to come, directly from the assholes who lord over us and tell us what we can and cannot do

    thats where the problem is
    if we need a wall anywhere, its around DC!

    if the Policy of giving these people life sustaining systems stopped, they too would stop coming here

    like for instance .. would you cross the border to live there? No, because there’s no support, there’s no jobs,the government of that country will deport you or jail you for coming there without proper authorization , there’s higher crime..I could go on , but i hope you get what I’m saying

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