Asylum-seeking Syrian family crosses into Quebec from U.S. in -15C weather

Asylum-seekers crossing through the woods to Quebec surged in recent months, Canada Border Services says

Syrian family crosses border at Hemmingford 0:58


A Syrian family of three was stopped at Hemmingford, Que., by the RCMP Saturday morning as they illegally crossed the border from the U.S. to apply for refugee status in Canada.

The young Syrian family dragged luggage and pushed their daughter in a stroller through the snow in about -15C weather. Their girl is about three years old.

According to the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), the number of asylum seekers recently has surged, from 46 claims filed in January 2014 in Quebec to 452 this January. 

RCMP officers were waiting for the family and detained them, as is standard procedure with refugee claimants.

The area of the woods where the family crossed is patrolled 24 hours per day, seven days per week by the RCMP.

The family will be brought to the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing.

girl quebec border crossing

The family's daughter is put into a vehicle after crossing the border into Quebec in subzero temperatures early Saturday morning. (Pascal Robidas/Radio-Canada)

"There's a process to follow," said retired provincial police officer and police affairs analyst François Doré. 

"The RCMP aren't there to treat them like bandits. They're here to apply the law." 

After that, they will have a date before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada tribunal.

They won't be in custody while they wait for their tribunal date.

Growing number of asylum-seekers

The number of asylum-seekers entering Quebec illegally from the United States by walking through the woods has surged in the past few months.

According to the CBSA, there were 368 asylum-seekers entering Quebec from the U.S. in Nov. 2016, by December that number jumped to 593.

Within that timeframe, U.S. President Donald Trump began speaking about barring all Muslims from entering the country

By late January, Trump signed an executive order stating that anyone from seven majority-Muslim countries was banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The ban was later temporarily blocked by a U.S. judge.

Julie Lessard, a specialist in business immigration law, said the climate in the U.S. has created a sense of insecurity in some people, despite the ban being temporarily blocked.

"People are just trying to get better lives, so if the ban comes back in another form — and because of the insecurity that it all created — well definitely, there was an increase in the last couple of weeks of the number of people trying to cross the border," Lessard said.

"I don't see it ending at this point in time." 

Stéphane Handfield, an immigration rights lawyer said that in the past few weeks his office has been getting calls regularly.

"Not only me, but other lawyers that provide this service," Handfield told CBC's French-language service Radio-Canada. 

Why cross in the woods?

The reason some asylum-seekers will choose to cross in the woods instead of at a formal border crossing goes back to 2004 and the Safe Third Country agreement. 

The agreement was designed to limit the number of people claiming refugee status in Canada.

It was created so that refugee status can only be claimed in the first safe country someone arrives in. But it only holds at official border crossings. 

People crossing into Canada through open terrain can apply for refugee status here.

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