'Thank you, God': Asylum seekers find warm welcome at Olympic Stadium

With a surge of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States this week, hundreds of Montrealers gathered to welcome them Sunday outside the temporary shelter set up at the Olympic Stadium.

New temporary shelter also opens in Montreal's Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough

A man holds up a baby during a rally in support of asylum seekers outside the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The stadium is now being used as a temporary shelter for some of the hundreds of asylum claimants pouring across the New York-Quebec border every day. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

With a surge of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States this week, hundreds of Montrealers gathered to welcome them Sunday outside the temporary shelter set up at the Olympic Stadium.

"It's a way of saying 'Welcome to Canada' to people and, at the same time, ask Quebecers and Canadians for their solidarity," said Serge Bouchereau, the spokesperson for the humanitarian group Comité d'action des personnes sans statut.

Holding signs with welcoming messages, many in the crowd said they wanted to show their support for newcomers, and combat anti-immigration perspectives.

"We know that in a few years there will be a net benefit because of the arrival of the folks who are here," said local activist Jaggi Singh.

"That will be a net benefit to our society through a variety of means, through culture, through their contributions, through work, through a lot of things  we know that. We know that previous immigrant populations have done the same thing."

A woman holds up a sign saying 'Refugees welcome' at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. (Sébastien Desrosiers/Radio-Canada)

Adline Tidas is one of the newcomers — she arrived in Quebec on Aug. 2nd with her fiancé and they stayed at the stadium on Saturday night.

"It is a good place. We have fun, we eat good," she said. 

Tidas said she left the United States because she didn't think U.S. President Donald Trump would extend temporary protection status for Haitian nationals past January, when it's set to expire.

It was granted after the 2010 earthquake, but now the Department of Homeland Security considers Haiti to be a safe country.

Canada's own program granting Haitian nationals temporary refuge here after the earthquake has already ended, after it was extended twice by the Trudeau government. 

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

"I don't want to go back to Haiti," she said. "I come here because I know Canada is going to welcome us and we say, 'Thank you, God, there is some place we can go.'"

Social worker Valerié Jean-Jacques said a lot of the newcomers have small children and are asking for diapers, wipes, tissues, blankets, toothbrushes, soap and shampoo.

The demonstration in support of asylum seekers took place outside the Olympic Stadium, where they are being housed. (Sébastien Desrosiers/Radio-Canada)
She works with a group called 2 Mains pour demain, or Two Hands for Tomorrow, which was created to help in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 

"We're a very strong community, helping is like second nature to us," Jean-Jacques said.

"We can really come together and help people out. I'm very proud to be from this Montreal community, because I find it so generous," she said. 

Another shelter set up

Due to a rising number of would-be refugees, between 100 and 450 cots have been set up in the Olympic Stadium to temporarily accommodate an influx of men, women and children seeking asylum and entering the country through Quebec borders.

Earlier this week, Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told CBC News that 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.

A second temporary shelter for asylum seekers also opened it doors Sunday in Montreal's Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough.

The centre, located in the Sisters of Providence building, is able to serve up to 300 people on a temporary basis, according to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.

Valerié Jean-Jacques is a social worker with 2 Mains pour demain, a group created to help in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

The city said in a statement released this weekend that it was also looking for other solutions to accommodate the waves of asylum seekers crossing into Quebec.

Countering misinformation

On Thursday, about 25 leaders of Montreal's Haitian community met at the office of community group Masion d'Haiti in St-Michel, to talk about how to help this new wave of asylum seekers.

"A lot of them come with children, it is a stressful situation for those people, for those families crossing the borders," St-Michel city councillor Frantz Benjamin told CBC's Daybreak.

The new shelter for migrants in Montreal opened its doors on Sunday. (Thomas Christopherson/Radio-Canada)

Benjamin said one of the priorities that emerged from the meeting was the need for an information campaign among the Haitian diaspora to counteract false information that has been circulating on social media about how to immigrate to Canada.  

CBC News learned that misleading information had been passed around through WhatsApp messages and on social media which indicate the Canadian government has issued an open invitation to Haitian nationals.

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours, Jay Turnbull, Radio-Canada and Canadian Press