Quebec, Ottawa urged to take in Haitian refugees after thousands detained, expelled at U.S.-Mexico border

Thousands of Haitians who fled to a U.S.-Mexico border are either in detention or being sent back to the impoverished Caribbean island. Now, some Quebecers are calling for the provincial and federal governments to step in and help.

Montreal's Haitian community, group of immigration lawyers ask governments to step up

Haitians deported from the United States recover their belongings scattered on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (The Associated Press/Joseph Odelyn)

Some Quebecers are calling on the provincial and federal governments to take in some of the Haitian refugees who have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border — and are likely facing deportation back to the impoverished Caribbean island.

A makeshift encampment under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas, along the border, was a temporary home to about 15,000 Haitian refugees last month while they waited to be processed for asylum in search of a better life in the U.S.

But members of Montreal's Haitian community denounced the "inhumane" treatment of migrants at the camp,  where images that went viral showed American border patrol agents using aggressive tactics to prevent them from entering the U.S., such as hitting them with leather reins.

In the end, 7,000 asylum seekers were expelled to Haiti from the U.S., with Mexico sending back 200 people total. The last remaining migrants, who were living in squalid conditions in the camp, were cleared out by Sept. 24.

Frantz Voltaire, a Haitian Montreal-based documentary filmmaker, says Canada shares part of the blame for the chaos in Haiti after supporting the country's corrupt government for years. He says Canada now has a responsibility to help solve its problems. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

"We feel betrayed by this kind of policy," said Frantz Voltaire, a Montreal-based documentary filmmaker. His family comes from the southwestern region of Haiti and he has been researching the country since the 1980s. 

Voltaire says the conditions many are going back to on the Caribbean Island are devastating. 

"We live in a situation where you have kidnappings, where you have rape, you have violence," he said, adding migrants at the border are not all from Haiti, but rather people who travelled from as far as Brazil, Chile and Argentina. 

"It's in contradiction with the Geneva Convention that you can expel the people to a country where their lives are at risk," Voltaire said. 

'Canada has a responsibility in this situation' 

Quebec's association of immigration lawyers, which goes by its French acronym, AQAADI, is calling on Quebec and Canada to step up and take in some of the Haitian refugees as many haven't had their asylum claims heard, says lawyer Dan Bohbot.

"It is not right for a country to return refugees without letting them have a chance to explain why they want to apply for asylum, if they're having reasons to fear returning to their country," said Bohbot.

Haiti is embroiled in humanitarian and political crises in the wake of a presidential assassination, gang violence and a major earthquake. Bohbot says the province should step in and offer asylum. 

"There's a very strong community of Haitians, they contribute a lot to our community, to our province, and I think that it would be only normal for [Premier François Legault] to say 'Hey there's room here for some of them,'" he said.

An area where about 15,000 migrants, many from Haiti, were camping out along the Del Rio International Bridge is seen with a large portion of the area cleaned up as authorities remove them. (The Associated Press/Julio Cortez)

Bohbot says the province has done this before for refugees from Vietnam and Syria. He says federal leaders also need to speak out against the mass deportations.

Legault's office did not respond to CBC News' request for comment.

In a statement, Peter Liang, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, said Canada has been "engaging directly with the interim government and other actors" to promote an inclusive dialogue with all political parties.

"We want to continue to strengthen our efforts to improve the lives of the Haitian people," Liang said.

Voltaire says Canada shares part of the blame for the chaos in Haiti after supporting the country's corrupt government for years.

The Canadian government is part of the Core Group, which comprises ambassadors to Haiti from Germany, Brazil, Spain, the United States, France and the European Union. Many members of the Haitian community and its diaspora have accused the group of meddling in their home country's affairs and contributing to its instability.

"Canada has a responsibility in this situation and can help solve part of the problem," said Voltaire.


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With files from Sharon Yonan-Renold, Reuters