Members of Haitian government in Montreal to 'support' asylum seekers

The ministers of foreign affairs and Haitians living abroad met with Mayor Denis Coderre Tuesday.

The ministers of foreign affairs and Haitians living abroad met with Mayor Coderre Tuesday

Haitian Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue is one of two ministers from Haiti who visited Montreal Tuesday and met with Mayor Denis Coderre. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Haitian government has sent two representatives to Montreal in light of the influx of Haitian asylum seekers crossing illegally into Quebec from the U.S.

Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue and Stéphanie Auguste, minister for nationals living abroad, touched down in Montreal Tuesday afternoon.

Immigration Canada says the number of asylum seekers, most of them Haitian, crossing illegally near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., border crossing has quadrupled in the past two weeks from about 50 a day to 200 a day.

At an afternoon news conference with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, the ministers said the Haitian government felt a responsibility to lend support to citizens migrating to Canada. 

Rodrigue said they are on a "fact-finding mission" to learn about the Haitians who came to Canada, and to see what kind of agreement can be reached with the Canadian government. 

And the pair wants "to show them that the Haitian people and government are with them, behind them and don't forget about them," he said.

They will also help Haitians without identification get the documents they need in order to access essential services, such as passports and birth certificates, said Auguste.

Coderre said Montreal's status as a sanctuary city highlighted the importance of receiving the migrants streaming across the nearby U.S. border.

"I don't want to talk about a crisis, because it's not a crisis," Coderre said at the news conference.

"If you look at the numbers, we're talking about 2,500 people [so far]; if you look at the migration in certain countries in Europe, we're talking about half a million," he said.

Coderre read a Haitian proverb in Creole, then translated its meaning into French. "When you have people in vulnerable situations, we must not step on top of them, but help them and show solidarity," he said.

Auguste called Coderre a "Haitian Quebecer at heart."

Situation in Haiti

Rodrigue acknowledged it would be a strain on resources in Haiti if a large number of nationals were to return, but that "it's their country, if they have to go back, we have to receive them," he said. "They are our brothers and sisters."

The present government has only been in place for about six months and is in the process of rebuilding, Rodrigue said, after the 2010 earthquake and a devastating hurricane five years later.

He said the new administration "is working hard to put the country back on track and give all the necessities to the people of the country."

The ministers met with Mayor Denis Coderre Tuesday afternoon. (Radio-Canada)

Bracing for an influx

In May, President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw the temporary protected status (TPS) of Haitians who took refuge in the country following the 2010 earthquake.

With the TPS set to expire in January 2018, Haitian nationals now fear being sent back to Haiti.

Many factors pushed Haitian nationals to first leave their country, then the U.S. or other countries, Rodrigue said. He agreed President Donald Trump's immigration policies were a factor.

"Maybe people see the new policies as unfavourable to their condition and they see that Quebec and Canada are lands of welcome," he said. 

By entering Canada illegally and claiming refugee status, asylum seekers are generally allowed to stay while their refugee applications are processed.

In order to get residency in Canada though, they will have to prove on an individual basis that it is unsafe for them to return to their home country.