Manitoba

Number of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba down again in August

Police intercepted 80 people making irregular border crossings into Manitoba in August, down from 87 in July and significantly lower than the 170 people taken into custody in March, according to numbers released by the federal government Tuesday.

Winnipeg immigration lawyer says worries about surging numbers were overblown

Since the start of the year, 813 asylum seekers have been intercepted by RCMP crossing into Manitoba from the U.S. at a point other than an official point of entry, according to numbers released Tuesday. Police intercepted 80 people crossing the border into Manitoba last month, significantly fewer than the 170 people taken into custody in March. (CBC)

A Winnipeg immigration lawyer says new stats that show a continuing drop in the number of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba likely means worries about a surge in irregular border crossings into the province during Donald Trump's presidency were overblown.

Police intercepted 80 people crossing the border into Manitoba between official ports of entry last month, down from 87 in July and significantly lower than the 170 people taken into custody in March, according to numbers released by the federal government Tuesday.

Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan says he's not surprised the number of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba has dropped since a spike during the winter and spring. (CBC)
Lawyer Bashir Khan says he predicted the high numbers the province saw in the winter and early spring wouldn't last, because he says those who made the crossings then were motivated less by Trump's talk of a travel ban and more by fear of mass deportations.

"People don't like to leave where they've settled down, even without status. So if you're staying without status in the U.S. and you have a job, and you have an apartment … why would you get up and leave all that and come to Canada to an uncertain future?

"Only when you believe that you are about to be deported to a life far worse than you what you have in the U.S. — your home country — do you make a run for it to Canada as a last resort and that's what I saw was happening in the winter," said Khan.

"What I've been saying is, it had nothing to do with President Trump and more to do with the gossip and rumours."

813 RCMP interceptions in 2017

The August numbers bring the total number of RCMP interceptions of asylum seekers at the Manitoba-U.S. border to 813 so far in 2017.

While the numbers may be waning, it's still a massive increase from the 70 to 100 asylum seekers Winnipeg's Welcome Place — a non-profit organization that helps newcomers settle in the city — says it was used to seeing annually before Donald Trump's rise to power.

Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, which runs Welcome Place, says the agency had 94 people go through its refugee-claimant program last month.

Chahal said the majority of asylum seekers coming over the U.S. border into Manitoba originally come from Somalia, and the second largest group of asylum seekers originally called Ghana home.

She did not want to speculate on what is leading them to make the border crossings.

"Our focus is primarily the humanitarian aspect, which is to give them the services they need to be able to have their claim and application submitted as quickly as possible," she said.

Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, says the agency had 94 people go through its refugee-claimant program last month. (Gary Soliak/CBC)

The increased numbers of asylum seekers her organization has seen over the last year has put a strain on resources at Welcome Place, says Chahal, who adds it has had to add staff and is always in need of cash donations to supplement provincial funding. 

Welcome Place expects to help more than 1,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year, and Chahal says they'll be watching the ever-changing political climate in the U.S. and Canada to be ready for any influx that may come.

Number nearly doubled nationally in August

As for whether agencies like Welcome Place should be battening the hatches for another spike in asylum seekers coming to Manitoba, Khan is doubtful.

"I don't see a big jump like happened in January," he said.

While the numbers in Manitoba appear to be dropping, the figures released Tuesday show the rate of asylum seekers arriving at the Canada-U.S. border nearly doubled last month nationally.

The data shows 5,712 people were stopped by the RCMP in August, up from 3,134 in July.

More than 5,550 of those encounters were in Quebec, but British Columbia also saw a small surge of its own, with numbers there doubling from 51 people stopped in July to 102 in August.

In total, 13,211 people have been intercepted by the RCMP between official points of entry since the start of the year.

About the Author

Shane Gibson

Reporter

Shane is a CBC Manitoba journalist with nearly a decade of experience reporting in Winnipeg and around Manitoba. Email: shane.gibson@cbc.ca.