Nigeria to help bust 'myths' about illegal border crossings into Canada

Nigeria has given assurances it will help dispel myths that illegally crossing from the U.S. is a shortcut to Canada and will issue travel documents to facilitate the removal of unsuccessful asylum seekers. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen recently met with senior officials in Nigeria.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says officials will help with messaging, issuing travel documents

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen met with officials in Nigeria to discuss the wave of asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Nigeria has given assurances it will help dispel "myths" that illegally crossing from the U.S. is a shortcut to Canada, and will issue travel documents to facilitate the removal of unsuccessful asylum seekers.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen visited Nigeria to meet with senior officials and other groups to discuss the spike in the number of Nigerians who are abusing U.S. travel visas to enter Canada illegally. Those officials, including Nigeria's foreign affairs minister, promised to help tackle the problem by spreading a "deterrence" message, and to issue travel documents for those subject to removal from Canada.

"Getting that assurance and that commitment from them is extremely important. We will follow up with that commitment to make sure those documents are issued," Hussen told reporters in a conference call.

The lack of a passport can seriously delay, and in some cases, prevent, the removal of people whose refugee claim has been rejected.

There are more than 15,000 people on Canada's deportation list, including more than 900 Nigerians. 

More than 7,600 people have entered Canada outside official border crossings so far this year, and more than half of them are Nigerian, Hussen said. Of those, more than 75 per cent had a valid travel visa to the U.S.

Since Canada raised the issue with the U.S., American officials have been applying more rigorous screening procedures to the visa application process. That has led to a 10 per cent increase in the refusal rate.

New figures from the Immigration and Refugee Board show that 3,397 cases of Nigerians were referred in the first three months of 2018. Of the cases heard in that period, 178 were accepted and 359 were rejected. Another 48 were abandoned, and 16 were withdrawn.

Hussen gave several media interviews in Nigeria to get the message out. In Canada, MPs are also reaching out to Nigerian diaspora in their ridings.

Dispelling 'myths'

"There is misinformation being directed toward some Nigerian nationals, and they are being told that going to Canada and crossing the border is a free ticket. So we're dispelling those myths, and part of that includes social media campaigns, making sure that we interact with Nigerian communities in Nigeria, in the United States and in Canada," he said.

Hussen emphasized that the vast majority of Nigerians who come to Canada do so legitimately as students, tourists or businesspeople. There is also a "good news" story in the thousands of Nigerian immigrants who have come to Canada through the regular channels and contribute to Canadian society, he said.

Hussen also said a plan to move migrants to locations other than Montreal and Toronto is underway.

"We in the federal government have developed a lot of models for triaging, and we have presented those models to both Quebec and Ontario to make sure that they pick the model that will work best for them," he said.

Ontario officials have been going around the province scouting potential sites for shelters and housing to relieve pressure on the main cities. Officials have said the work will be completed in weeks rather than months.

"We are literally a few weeks away from operationalizing this triage system that I believe will be critical to relieving pressure from the cities of Toronto and Montreal," he said.

Quebec has complained that the federal government has not borne enough of the costs associated with sheltering the thousands of asylum seekers, and had hoped for quick relief to the housing crunch.

Maxim Labrecque, spokesperson for Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel, said discussions on the triage system are continuing. He said it is crucial for Ottawa to speed up the processing of applications to meet the 60-day target established in 2012.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Hussen's efforts will not be enough.

"The Liberals have been taking a Band-Aid approach to the illegal border crossing crisis, as opposed to taking legislative action to enforce the spirit of the safe third country. The situation will only continue to deteriorate unless this is done," she said.

An RCMP officer speaks to an asylum seeker who crossed the border at Roxham Road in Quebec. (CBC)

Akin Oduntan, public relations officer for the Nigerian Canadian Association, wants to send the message that if people want to come to Canada, they should go through the legal immigration route. He reminds people that Canada has various programs and streams to apply for immigration.

"We tell them, you come to Canada illegally you may not necessarily get your status as you imagine," he said. "It's always safer and better to go through the legal process that Immigration Canada has provided. We try to help them understand that."

Last year, 5,460 Nigerians were admitted as permanent residents through economic class programs and family sponsorship.

Legitimate process

Oduntan doesn't know why so many Nigerians are suddenly choosing this route, but speculates that some unscrupulous immigration consultants, or those posing as consultants, are making money by giving out false information. He says some don't want to be patient enough to go through the legitimate process, and don't understand they are actually jeopardizing their chances for a life in Canada.

With so much public attention on Nigerians illegally making their way into the country, he worries it could harm the reputation of Nigerians in Canada.

"Nobody is saying you shouldn't look for better opportunities, but do it legally, do it in the right way so by the time you get to your destination you can rest assured you have done something legally and good, both for the good of the country you are coming from and also for the good of the country you are immigrating to," Oduntan said.