Canada to allow illegal border crossers to stay

Written by Staff Writer

(CNN) — Canada will now allow illegal border crossers to stay while they seek asylum in the country — a key policy change meant to ease pressure on a National Capital Region, the government said on Wednesday.

All unlawful border crossers will now be able to apply for refugee status while on Canadian soil, the government said. In a press release, the government also said it will launch a new search and rescue operations program for both Canadians and refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

This policy shift comes after Canada was overwhelmed by asylum-seekers over the summer, and it follows the United States’ decision to end its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in June.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently apologized for the “distressing” time asylum-seekers spent in a frigid “winter zone” setting up in tents, and he stated he was sorry for the thoughtlessness he said immigration officials displayed.

“They could feel at the time that their legal rights were not being taken into account and that there wasn’t enough information available to the public,” Trudeau said.

At the height of the influx, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen had said asylum-seekers could only apply for refugee status once they spent a night in a Canadian shelter — a time-consuming process in itself.

But the prime minister’s changed policy means the asylum-seekers can keep applying for refugee status, provided they don’t end up returning to the border. Hussen said this week he expects the surge in asylum-seekers in the face of the US border policy change to diminish.

Wednesday’s announcement also appears to acknowledge how the refugee system had proved flawed to asylum-seekers and was causing a crisis for the Canadian government. Hussen had previously stated that people who crossed illegally to Canada started “this whole maelstrom.”

More than 31,000 people have crossed into Canada illegally in the first six months of 2018, up from just 902 in all of 2017, the Canadian government has said.

The humanitarian situation — which includes children and families who crossed illegally into Canada with just the clothes on their backs — could have led to former United States President Donald Trump ending the agreement with Canada to share the responsibilities for processing the claims, Hussen told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last month.

“We were worried, yes, because we knew that the US-Canada pact will be going away and (that) people will be trying to cross the border illegally,” Hussen said.

“I think everyone in Canada recognizes that when the international refugee agreement is in effect, it is fair, because Canada takes in 60% of all asylum-seekers and the United States takes in 40% of all asylum-seekers,” he added.

Asylum-seekers were also stranded in a makeshift camp near the official border crossing between Emerson, Manitoba, and Quebec because of frigid weather. The camp, which was previously reported as about 60 people but is believed to be much larger, was dug into the earth with branches and tarpaulins.

The weather, though warmer, was still dangerous, with temperatures outside at -30F. Officials feared refugees might suffer hypothermia during freezing rainstorms and during the night, according to the Canadian Press.

Although officials said they intended to relocate people in a camp last month, they never moved anyone because of the weather.

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