Quebec presses for help from feds amid anticipated jump in asylum seekers

The Quebec government says it's unable to handle the droves of asylum seekers who continue to cross into the province and is calling on the federal government for help. ​

Government projections show daily crossings could hit 400 a day in 2018

More than 25,000 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec from the U.S. in 2017, according to the Quebec government. Their projections show that number could grow in 2018. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

The Quebec government says it's unable to handle the droves of asylum seekers who continue to cross into the province and is calling on the federal government for help.

"Quebec is ready to do its part from a humanitarian point of view, but reaching the point of saturation of our services has to be equally considered," Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel said at a news conference in Montreal this morning.

"And the fact is, for the government of Quebec, that point has been reached."

Starting April 24, the government said it will not take in any more asylum seekers who did not come into the province through a legal border checkpoint, once 85 per cent of the 1850 daily places available in the temporary housing centres is reached.

"It's not a question of injecting more money, it's a question of resources," said Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois.

"On the front lines, we have people who are on sick leave, we also have people who are asking to start working in other services because the pressure is so intense."

Call for more federal help

The ministers said the province did its part after the U.S. government's announced it would end the temporary residency permit (TRP) program for Haitians, which triggered the massive border crossing wave last spring and summer.

But they said the federal government has to step up and take responsibility for those who cross illegally.

"We don't take this lightly. We're ready to work with the federal government to find a new solution, but the status quo isn't acceptable," Heurtel said.

Quebec immigration minister David Heurtel said the province has no choice but to put limits on how many asylum seekers it can accommodate because services are stretched to the limits. (CBC)

Heurtel will be in Ottawa Wednesday for a meeting of the intergovernmental task force on irregular migration, which was struck to specifically examine the issue of the influx of asylum seekers entering Canada at illegal border crossings.

Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec's minister responsible for Canadian Relations, said the province has been accommodating and assisting asylum seekers for humanitarian reasons, but has no legal obligation to do so and has received no federal funding.

He said Ottawa needs to come up with a plan to take in asylum seekers, determine when and how they arrived in the U.S., quickly process their application in line with the federal legislation, quickly produce work permits and redistribute those who don't want to stay in Quebec to other areas of the country.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said he's received a letter from Heurtel. He said funding intended to help Quebec settle newcomers has been increased and the federal government has processed more than 12,000 applications for work permits from asylum seekers. 

"We're waiting for Quebec to provide concrete proposals on what they want us to do and we haven't received that yet," he said. 

More asylum seekers crossing into Quebec

In 2017, more than 25,000 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec — 75 per cent of them walked across the border illegally at places like Roxham Road where there is no official checkpoint.

At the height of the summer, an average of 225 people were crossing into Quebec daily.

Already in 2018, there's been a significant year over year increase. More than 6,600 people entered the province since Jan.1 and projections show that number could hit 400 people a day by the summer, Heurtel said.

He said the majority of people crossing into Quebec seeking asylum in 2018 were not linked to the American government's decision to repeal the special temporary status.

"We have information that tells us that certain asylum seekers arrived in the U.S. very recently and chose to come directly to Roxham Road to cross into Canada by Quebec," he said, adding many said they had no particular desire to stay in Quebec long term.

The pressure on the system extends beyond the frontline services, the government stressed.

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx said while the government was able to accommodate the 2,500 children of asylum seekers who entered the school system in 2017, there simply isn't space to do the same in 2018, especially in francization programs.

He said more and more families are crossing into Quebec and around 40 per cent of those in the temporary housing centres are school-aged children.

"It's not a question of choice —it's not because we don't want to fulfil our obligations with regards to these children, it's because we don't have the resources or the spaces," he said.