A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer informs migrants of their rights at a known irregular entry point into Quebec from the U.S, Aug. 7, 2017. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

Fewer asylum seekers crossed Canada-U.S. border irregularly in June, say federal officials

Fewer asylum seekers crossed into Canada from the U.S. through irregular border crossings in June than at any time over the last year, according to federal statistics released on Friday as federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen met with his provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss the thorny issue.

There were 1,263 irregular border crossings into Canada in June 2018 by people who entered the country by bypassing official border posts to claim asylum, federal officials said.

That’s the lowest number recorded since June 2017 and signals a continued decrease from the 1,869 asylum seekers apprehended in May and more than a 50‑per-cent decrease from the 2,560 irregular border crossers who were intercepted in April, officials said.

On average there were 83 asylum claims per day in April, compared with 57 claims per day in May and 39 claims per day in June.

95 per cent cross through Quebec

FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2017 file photo, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer informs a migrant couple of the location of a legal border station, shortly before they crossed from Champlain, N.Y., to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, using Roxham Road. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo/File)

In all, from the beginning of the year to June 30, 2018, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s federal police force, which has jurisdiction over the border between official ports of entry, intercepted 10,744 migrants.

Of these migrants, 10,261 were in Quebec, most of whom crossed through an irregular crossing point at Roxham Road on the New York-Quebec border.

Asylum seekers make the irregular crossings because under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement they would be turned away if they attempted to cross through one of the many official border points since Canada considers the U.S. a safe country for refugees.

However, a loophole in the Canadian immigration legislation allows migrants to make an “inland” asylum claim once they have crossed the border.

While crossing the border outside the official border crossings is technically illegal, the Liberal government argues that under international refugee protection treaties signed by Canada and many other countries an exemption is made for people who are forced to cross the border through irregular points of entry to seek refuge.

Refugees or economic migrants?

Asylum seekers wait to be transported to a processing centre after entering Canada illegally from the United States at Roxham road in Hemmingford, Que., Wednesday, August 9, 2017. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, the party’s shadow immigration minister, has tweeted that “many people who illegally cross the U.S. or Canadian borders and claim asylum do not have valid asylum claims.”

Instead they come in search of better economic opportunities and the very low asylum claim acceptance rates prove her point, Rempel said.

“The volume of asylum claims in Canada alone, resulting from the Roxham Road crisis, means years-long backlogs to process asylum claims,” Rempel tweeted. “In the interim, claimants are entitled to be housed and provided with the social supports our laws in Canada afford to them.”

The Liberal government has no plan to manage the crisis, she said.

“No plan to pay for the billions of dollars of processing, social supports, and eventual removals that high volumes of false asylum claims create. No plan to deal with the wait time impact this has on those legally trying to enter,” Rempel wrote in a long Twitter thread, laying out her views on the complex issue.

Ontario factor

Ontario Premier Doug Ford applauds as Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivers the speech from the throne to open the new legislative session at the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Thursday, June 12, 2018. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The issue of irregular border crossings has also come to the fore recently with the election of the Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario Doug Ford, who has accused the federal government of botching the irregular migrant situation. Ford has demanded that Ottawa pay for the expenses incurred by the province to receive and house the asylum seekers.

“Our government has a clear plan to handle the asylum seeker situation,” Hussen said in a statement. “There is no free ticket to Canada, and we have delivered that message extensively at home and overseas, with real results.”

The federal government has beefed up border operations to ensure that every asylum claimant goes through a thorough security check immediately upon entry into Canada, Hussen said.

Those who do not qualify will be removed from Canada, he said, adding that under “Canadian and international laws, asylum claimants on our soil have a right to due process.”

Hussen said on June 1, the federal government pledged an initial $50 million to assist Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario, which have borne the majority of costs associated with housing asylum seekers.

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