Thursday February 23, 2017

Does Canada have a looming refugee crisis with influx of illegal border crossings?

Manitoba border-town wants help dealing with influx of refugees 0:44

Listen 19:57

Read story transcript

The RCMP says there have been 1,280 illegal border crossings across the U.S.-Canada border last year — up from 424 the year before. Manitoba, in particular, has experienced a stark rise in migrant crossings, especially in the small border town of Emerson.

The community of just 671 people has seen at least 100 asylum seekers cross the border this year, often at night and in the dead of winter.

"If they come across in a farmer's field, they're lost, they're cold. They'll call 911," explains Emerson's volunteer fire chief Jeff French to The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti.

22 people crossed U.S. border into Emerson on weekend2:13

He adds that sometimes firefighters and other first responders have to search for border crossers as they won't know exactly where they are.

"We haven't seen anything too severe yet," French says of cold-related injuries, although he has heard of other cases involving severe hypothermia and frostbite.

The number of migrant or refugee border crossing calls they're getting has doubled this year. French says the issue has divided sentiment in town.

"It's a bit controversial," he tells Tremonti.  

Question Period 20170130

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the government is looking at possible ways to relieve the pressure on local communities regarding illegal border crossings. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"We have to be on guard for all border jumpers whether or not they are refugees. There are mixed feelings in town, that's for sure." 

If the numbers of illegal border crossings continue, French says he'd like to see more officers from the RCMP to help manage the situation.

French lives very close to the border and has been affected personally.

"They're coming through my backyard. I've seen pictures online of my swing set in the pictures. You feel bad. There's kids coming through, young boys and girls, babies in car seats. It's heartbreaking seeing what's going on."

Ralph Goodale, Canada's minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, says Ottawa is closely monitoring the situation in Emerson and all along Canada's border with the United States.

Goodale tells Tremonti the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency have rearranged resources internally to help deal with the uptick of border jumpers, but neither agency has asked for additional resources. 

Cda US Border Refugees 20170217

Family members are helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

He adds that while the number of illegal border crossings is rising, it is still below the record levels Canada saw almost a decade ago.

The federal NDP are calling on Ottawa to suspend its Safe Third Country Agreement that prohibits migrants passing through the U.S. and from making a refugee claim at a formal border crossing.

Goodale says Canadian officials don't believe the U.S. has violated the agreement in president Donald Trump's recent immigration crackdown, but they continue to monitor it.

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Samira Mohyeddin.