Canada’s Asylum Seeker Influx Rises Despite Tightened Border Controls

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The initiative instigated by Canada earlier this year to diminish the influx of asylum seekers from the U.S. seemed to bear immediate fruit. The number of individuals caught at unofficial border crossings began to wane within days. However, five months on, the total number filing for refuge in Canada has seen an unexpected rise. Now, there is an increase in entrants by air and others elect to covertly cross the U.S.-Canada border, laying low until they can safely apply for asylum without fear of repatriation.

These statistical revelations highlight the struggle nations face in curtailing desperate entries and the challenges unforeseen volumes of asylum seekers can pose. Over the summer, the streets of Toronto bore witness to hundreds of homeless refugees unable to secure lodging.

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According to Shauna Labman, an acting director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Winnipeg, sealing a border does little to alleviate the need for protection, instead, it only intensifies desperation. Canada, a nation that prides itself on a welcoming immigration policy and plans to invite a record-breaking half a million new permanent residents by 2025 to aid labour shortages, has simultaneously attempted to dampen asylum applications, primarily via an agreement with the U.S.

Despite these endeavours, over 39,000 asylum seekers entered Canada through unofficial points last year – primarily via a dirt path leading to Quebec from New York. Provoked by this mass influx, the two nations revised the Safe Third Country Agreement in March, acknowledging all sections of their 4000-mile border as potential entry points. The revision resulted in a steep drop in clandestine crossings, from 4,173 in March to mere double digits from April to July.

However, despite the restricted border control, the total number of asylum seekers in Canada has surged. A spike in claims filed at airports or local immigration offices has been observed, with asylum applications in July reaching a peak of 12,010, the highest monthly total since at least January 2017.

Canada’s appeal as a sanctuary is heightened by the constricting global landscape for refugees. Hardening asylum regulations in the European Union and U.K., along with U.S. President Biden’s stringent rules for illegal crossers, enhance Canada’s allure for the desperate.

In response to the recent influx, many refugees are resorting to evasion and smuggling tactics to bypass the two-week stipulation of the revised agreement that leads to repatriation unless a narrow exemption is met. Consequently, humanitarian and refugee groups have observed a rise in delayed asylum applications and an increased tendency among asylum seekers to remain hidden for the first two weeks after their arrival.

Those who can secure a visa and plane ticket are favoured under the post-agreement asylum system. Despite the hardships, Hana Bakhit, a 35-year-old from war-torn Sudan who applied for a visitor’s visa and sought asylum two weeks after her arrival, considers herself fortunate to be in Canada. Grace Nanziri from Uganda, who was targeted for her LGBTQ advocacy, echoed this sentiment: Canada was her sanctuary, a beacon of human rights.

Despite the challenges, it is clear that for many, Canada remains a beacon of hope amid uncertainty, a testament to the nation’s reputation for protecting human rights and offering refuge.