Montreal prepares for possible summer influx of asylum seekers

Montreal is taking stock of its available lodgings as it prepares for another possible increase in asylum seekers, as the weather warms. But the city is reluctant to use the Olympic Stadium, as it did last year.

Authorities not likely to use Olympic Stadium again, city councillor says

Montreal's Olympic Stadium was used to house asylum seekers last summer. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Montreal is taking stock of its housing options as it prepares for another possible increase in asylum seekers this summer.

"We want to take action to ensure there is lodging," Magda Popeanu, vice-chair of the city's executive committee, said Wednesday. 

The city opened the cavernous Olympic Stadium to asylum seekers for about a month last August. 

However, Popeanu stressed that the Plante administration is reluctant to use the Big O this year.

"I hope to never open it again for that purpose," she said. 

There's been a steady flow of asylum seekers so far in 2018.

A total of 1,486 people crossed in February, and 1,458 crossed in January. 

The numbers for March haven't yet been released, but the border guards union and provincial aid officials have noted a recent increase.

More than 9,000 people illegally crossed into Quebec between June and the end of August last year, according to federal government data, stretching the limits of Quebec's resources.

New arrivals mostly from Nigeria

Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said border agents remarked an uptick in arrivals over the Easter long weekend.

The majority, he said, originated in Nigeria and had been living in the U.S. with expired visas.

"This gives us a clear signal of what we can anticipate in a few months to come … when the weather will be warmer," he said, adding that agents need more resources to deal with a possible influx.

A young man is handcuffed by an RCMP officer after crossing the U.S.-Canada border into Canada last year. A steady stream of asylum seekers have crossed into Quebec this winter. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

PRAIDA, the provincial government organization that helps refugee claimants in their first months in Quebec, also noted a recent increase.

Spokesperson Emmanuelle Paciullo said PRAIDA has the capacity to deal "with a significant number of requests, without compromising on the quality of health care and social services." 

The most common countries of origin, she said, are Nigeria, followed by Congo, Eritrea, Turkey, Syria and Burundi.

RCMP Const. Geneviève Byrne wouldn't confirm whether there has been a recent increase in the number of crossings. She said the agency doesn't yet have specific figures available. 

"The only thing I can say would be that the situation is in continuous change," she said. "There's always a constant flux."

With files from Jaela Bernstien