Montreal

What happens to asylum seekers after they cross illegally into Quebec from the U.S.?

The Syrian family seen crossing the snowy border into Quebec from the United States Saturday morning may soon join hundreds of other asylum claimants at the YMCA Residence in Montreal as they wait for their tribunal date with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

Asylum seeking families housed at Montreal YMCA, counselled on proving escape from danger

A toddler is put into an RCMP vehicle after crossing the border into Quebec in subzero temperatures on Saturday. (Pascal Robidas/Radio-Canada)

Early Saturday morning, a young Syrian family was caught on camera walking across the U.S. border at Hemmingford, Que., with their toddler being pushed through the snow in a stroller. The temperature was a frigid -15 C.

RCMP officers waited for them on the other side and swiftly, but gently, took them into custody. 

The Syrian family is among the hundreds of asylum seekers who have crossed illegally into Canada from the U.S. in recent weeks. 

"They bring whatever they can carry," said François Doré, a retired provincial police officer who lives three kilometres from the New York border and has watched dozens of asylum seekers cross over in the last week. 

"They're crossing the border with the kids, holding hands, carrying them, pushing strollers."

But what happens to the asylum seekers after they step onto Quebec soil?

From RCMP to IRB

As was the case for the Syrian family on Saturday, many are met by the RCMP. Both witnesses and immigration lawyers say the Mounties in Quebec don't tend to treat the asylum seekers as criminals.  

The vice president of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association, Eric Taillefer, said the RCMP recognizes these people are vulnerable and treat them in a way which reflects that.

He said not only Canadian law enforcement is looking out for these asylum seekers.

"I've even seen cases of border agents in the United States showing the way to claimants," Taillefer said.

"I guess there's a sort of pity on their part."

When an asylum seeker is picked up by the RCMP after illegally crossing the border, they face two possible options.

If they have valid identification, they are brought to a Canada Border Service Agency office to be processed 

The CBSA said 452 asylum seekers filed a claim in their Quebec offices in January alone.

But if the claimants don't have any official identification because they only have fake IDs or no IDs at all, Taillefer said, they are put in detention for identification purposes.

He added that on average, they are freed after two weeks.

The number of asylum-seekers entering Quebec illegally from the United States has surged in the past few months. 0:58

Shelter and guidance at a YMCA

After they make their refugee claim, asylum seekers have 45 days before they go before an Immigration and Refugee Board tribunal to explain why they can't return to the country of origin.

In the meantime, many are housed at the YMCA Residence on Tupper Street in Montreal.

Pascal Altorre, director of the residence, said it saw occupancy peak in December and January, when about 260 people were housed there. 

During the time they spend in the residence the claimants are given clothes, food and support.

"They get guidance on how to prove that they are really in danger and really asylum seekers," Altorre said.

He added that the residence has plenty of volunteers helping them but that they could always use winter coats and boots, as well as financial support.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak