(ESPAÑOL) In Manitoba, Canada, groups that specialize in helping refugees say the pace of arrivals has quickened since Donald Trump became president and banned travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. Refugees who spoke with The Associated Press cited Trump’s order and anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric as the main reasons for going north.
Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, said her group normally sees 50 to 60 refugees from the U.S. each year. But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that more than 40 have been picked up at the border near Emerson, Manitoba, in just the last two weekends.
Chahal said most are natives of Somalia, which was in Trump’s travel ban, but also from Ghana, Djibouti, Nigeria and Burundi. They are making the trip at a dangerous time.
While the number of Illegal crossings to Canada is dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands from Mexico on the southern border, the numbers are increasing.
In Quebec, the number has tripled in one year to 1,280 in the current fiscal year, which runs through March. Illegal crossings to British Columbia doubled to 652 last year. In Manitoba, the RCMP intercepted 68 people three years ago but 430 this fiscal year.
Those fleeing the U.S. avoid border posts because of an agreement — called Safe Third Country — that requires migrants to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in. That means migrants arriving at a Canadian border post are rejected and told to apply in the U.S.
An opposition party lawmaker grilled Canada’s immigration minister in Parliament on Thursday, saying the agreement discourages refugees from crossing at an official border checkpoint. New Democrat lawmaker Jenny Kwan also asked the minister whether he still believes the U.S. is offering a high degree of protection for asylum seekers.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, himself once a refugee from Somalia, stressed that Canada is welcoming to refugees. Canada has taken in almost 40,000 Syrian refugees, triple the U.S. intake of Syrians in 2016.
But Hussen said the agreement with the U.S. will remain because it “provides an orderly system of managing asylum claims.”