Asylum Seekers Navigate Loopholes Amid Canada’s Toughened Border Policies

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Earlier this year, Canada enacted an agreement aimed at curbing the influx of asylum seekers crossing over from the United States. Initially, it seemed to have hit its mark. Almost immediately, the individuals intercepted at unofficial border crossings dropped dramatically.

However, five months later, the strategy appears ineffective, as the overall number of refugee claims in Canada continues to rise. Instead of risking capture at the border, many are now opting to enter Canada by air, while others covertly cross the borders, remaining hidden until they can apply for asylum unimpeded. This unusual pattern is informed by the reports from the individuals working closely with these migrants.

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Canada has long been lauded for its receptive stance on immigration, aiming to bring in half a million new permanent residents in 2025 to alleviate a pressing labor shortage. However, the nation has concurrently sought to deter asylum applications, primarily by leveraging its asylum agreement with the United States where each country turns back asylum seekers entering through the other country.

Despite these efforts, over 39,000 asylum seekers reportedly entered Canada via unofficial crossings last year. The majority of these individuals crossed into Quebec via a dirt path off Roxham Road in New York, overwhelming the province’s capability to accommodate them. As international reports suggest, Canada’s faster application processing times and increased acceptance rates for asylum relative to the U.S pull these individuals in.

In response to the influx, Canada and the United States decided in March to expand the Safe Third Country Agreement – a two-decade-old pact focusing on asylum seekers. This extension now encompasses the countries’ entire 4,000-mile land border, rather than only official ports of entry.

While this amendment did lead to a substantial reduction in people intercepted at informal crossings, the overall number of asylum seekers entering Canada continues to rise. Government data shows that the total number of refugee claims made in Canada had their highest monthly total since at least January 2017 in July.

Remarkably, an increasing percentage of these claims are made at airports or local immigration department offices, often submitted days, weeks, or even months after arriving in Canada. Concurrently, increasing numbers of individuals are opting to cross over undetected, often assisted by smugglers, in order to circumvent a clause that states asylum seekers apprehended within two weeks of crossing the border will be returned unless fulfilling a specified exemption.

Despite the risk of these endeavors, the allure of Canada seems enduring. Many of these risk-takers are drawn to the country by its unparalleled reputation for protecting human rights and providing a haven. However, while the relative fortuity of obtaining a visa and a plane ride enables people like Bakhit to leverage the system, some refugee-rights advocates like Maureen Silcoff have expressed concerns over the system’s systemic injustices.

For many, however, such as Grace Nanziri whose LGBTQ advocacy made her target back in Uganda, the choice to come to Canada is quite literally a matter of life and death. The elusive promise of safety drives them through hardships and trials, landing thousands of miles away from their homes in new cities and towns. It is for them that Canada remains a beacon of hope amidst desolation.