'No guarantees' asylum seekers will get refugee status, Quebec premier points out

In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Philippe Couillard said it was "sad that these very vulnerable people are being convinced that being admitted to Canada and here in Quebec as a refugee would be simple, even automatic. It's not."

Philippe Couillard says it's 'sad' that people are being told it's easy to be admitted to Canada

Premier Philippe Couillard took to Facebook to remind people that while it's Quebec's job to ensure asylum seekers are treated with compassion and dignity, those who cross the border illegally are not promised refugee status in Canada. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

In an attempt to assuage concerns about asylum seekers, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says there are "no guarantees" the people who have recently been crossing the Canada-U.S. border in droves will be granted refugee status.

In a statement posted to his Facebook page Friday night, Couillard attempted to provide clarifications about the influx of people showing up at an illegal border crossing near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. and how the government is handling it.

He acknowledged how delicate the situation is, and said it's Quebec's duty to ensure they are treated with compassion and dignity as they wait to see if they will be accepted as refugees.

But he also said it was "sad that these very vulnerable people are being convinced that being admitted to Canada and here in Quebec as a refugee would be simple, even automatic. It's not. There exists no guarantee that refugee claims will be accepted, considering the strict rules that govern them."

The number of asylum seekers showing up at the crossing has been increasing in recent weeks. As many as 1,200, mainly of Haitian origin, were waiting to be processed at the border Friday.
A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. As many as 1,200 people were waiting in line Friday to file their refugee claims. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Many of them may be basing their decision to flee on misleading and false information depicting Canada as a safe haven, posted to WhatsApp, Facebook groups and other social media.

Officials in Canada, from Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale, have also said that asylum seekers are subject to the same laws and procedures as others when it comes to their refugee claims.

Goodale has warned that irregular border crossings are not a "free ticket to stay in Canada."

More clarifications from Couillard

    In his statement, Couillard said the refugee claimants have no impact on those already waiting to be accepted as immigrants to Quebec.

    He also said no compromises have been made when it comes to ensuring security and health of Canadians.

    Couillard appealed to what he called the "deep sense of equality and compassion" he's seen displayed by Quebecers.

    He said the government is aware of its increased responsibility in this situation and asked that everyone — regular citizens and politicians alike — refrain from making misleading statements that could complicate an already complex situation.

    That comment appeared to be a not-so-subtle dig at Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault, who on Wednesday made comments Couillard described as "fear-mongering."

    IRB assigning more staff to handle claims

    Meanwhile, the prospect of growing camps of migrants on the border prompted Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to exclusively dedicate 20 of its members Friday to the handling of their sudden barrage of asylum claims.

    The agency had been watching carefully the flow of would-be refugees into the province, but it was a sudden recent spike in arrivals that prompted more aggressive action, said Shereen Benzvy Miller, the head of the refugee protection division.

    "We want to anticipate and make sure if winter is coming, that there isn't a tent city of people awaiting determination in February,'' Benzvy Miller told The Canadian Press Friday.
    A group of asylum seekers walk down the street as they are escorted from their tent encampment to be processed by Canada Border Services agents. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

    Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7 alone, 1,798 people showed up at the unofficial crossing from the U.S. into Quebec, and Benzvy Miller said they have been given projection that show that pace won't slow down any time soon.

    By comparison, only 2,920 claims were filed in Quebec in all of 2015.

    The IRB's move is the latest in a series of extraordinary measures taken to deal with the surge. Twenty-five tents have been set up along the border, while beds have been arranged inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium, a former convent and the old Royal Victoria hospital.

    With files from The Canadian Press