Asylum seekers arrested at illegal crossings so far in 2017 nearly half of 2016 total

New data shows RCMP have arrested nearly half as many asylum seekers already this year as they did in all of 2016.

Quebec, Manitoba, B.C. saw majority of illegal crossings, according to new stats from Immigration Department

A man is frisked by RCMP officers as he is arrested for crossing the border from New York into Canada last week in Hemmingford, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Data released today shows that the RCMP have arrested nearly half as many asylum seekers already this year as they did in all of 2016.

Figures provided by the federal government show that in the first two months of this year, the RCMP intercepted 1,134 people.

Statistics previously provided by the Immigration Department had revealed 2,464 were apprehended in 2016.

Of those stopped so far this year, 677 were in Quebec, 161 in Manitoba and 291 in British Columbia.

The only other province where Mounties stopped asylum seekers this year was Saskatchewan, where five people were apprehended in January.

While the RCMP arrests would-be refugee claimants, how many of them actually go on to lodge asylum claims in Canada is unclear.

Tracking asylum claims is the work of the Canada Border Services Agency and the Immigration Department and in their statistics they don't separate out how an asylum seeker arrives.

The difference in the statistical approaches has created some confusion around the extent of the illegal border crossing issue and where it fits in the overall number of asylum claims being filed in Canada.

In the first two months of this year, 5,520 claims for asylum have been filed in Canada, compared to 23,895 for all of last year, according to figures released Tuesday.

Figures to now be updated monthly

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the data released Tuesday will now be updated monthly in a bid to provide clear and consistent figures.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told MPs Monday that a deeper dive into the backgrounds of those crossing between official ports of entry suggests the political atmosphere in the U.S. isn't what's driving them.

He said many of those apprehended in Manitoba had been in the U.S. for less than two months and had always intended to make Canada their final destination.

"This is definitely not specific to the incoming U.S. administration,'' he said.