Hide and seek and run!
The famous Roxham Road crossing for asylum seekers from New York USA to Canada has now been closed, alongside other unofficial border crossings for immigrants.
An expansion to the 2004 treaty known as the Safe Third Country Agreement took effect while they were en route to the Roxham Road crossing from New York to Quebec, making it illegal to claim refugee status at the entry point where thousands had previously succeeded.
According to Reuters and CTV News, the rules kicked in Saturday morning, stunning newcomers as they disembarked from a bus that brought them to Plattsburgh, N.Y. only to learn of the change.
A sign emblazoned with such warnings for illegal asylum seekers now looms over the Roxham Road crossing.
The sign now warns newcomers that it is illegal to enter Canada through Roxham Road. “You will be arrested and may be returned to the United States. Refugee claimants must request protection in the first safe country they arrive in,” it reads.
But experts who work directly with those seeking refugee status in Canada say they doubt such cautions, and the new migration rules they’re intended to uphold, will do much to deter cross-border traffic.
Restricting access to the border and preventing migrants from accessing a safe pathway into the country will only incentivize bad-faith actors, said Abdulla Daoud, executive director of The Refugee Centre, based in Montreal.
“This type of decision-making … in the past, has led to the creation of many human traffickers and smuggling rings,” Daoud said in an interview on Friday. “Canada never really had to deal with that too much. But now I think we’re going to see the numbers increase because these individuals are not going to go away.”
The new rules were announced last weekend, during U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Ottawa.
It was described in U.S. documents as a “supplement” to the Safe Third Country Agreement. That treaty prevents people in either Canada or the United States from crossing the border and making a refugee claim in either country — but until now, it only covered official points of entry.
The agreement now applies along the nearly 9,000-kilometre border, including at unofficial crossings like Roxham Road.
The executive director of Home of the World, a shelter for asylum seekers and migrants in Montreal, said it is possible that would-be refugees determined to cross into Canada may end up dying by taking dangerous routes into the country.
“It’s very possible that people will try to cross over using more hidden places and get stuck in the woods for two weeks and end up losing their lives,” Eva Gracia-Turgeon said in an interview. “We are talking about not only individuals but also families and pregnant women and young children who are going to cross. So potentially, there will be more drama at the border.”
The expanded Safe Third Party Agreement will also see Canada commit to welcoming 15,000 immigrants from across the Western Hemisphere this year, more than three times the number previously intended.
But Jenny Kwan, the New Democrat critic for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, said widening official pathways to refugee status will do little to ease pressures at the border.
“In 2022, nearly 40,000 migrants entered the country through Roxham Road,” she said in a statement.
“This ineffective measure will not protect Canadians — it will only further endanger and marginalize asylum seekers fleeing persecution and trying to come to safety in Canada.”