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Canadian Police Confirm Flurry Of Asylum Seekers Illegally Crossed Into Quebec

In January 2017, there were 452 asylum claims processed in Quebec alone. That's up from 137 claims in Quebec in January 2016.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reporting a flurry of illegal crossing into Canada this past weekend. Officials say Quebec has seen the highest influx of people seeking asylum, with many crossing in frigid, remote areas west of Lake Champlain, and ending up in Hemmingford and Lacolle.

Corporal Camille Habel with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police says that there is evidence that some smuggling rings are taking money to bring people across.

"Like we've seen with Manitoba, that people aren't ready for the weather, they're not ready for  the terrain, so in areas where it's not necessarily a road, or when people get dropped off a little too far away, when it's minus 25 in a snowstorm — its dangerous," Habel says.

"If you're a smuggler you're probably not the most scrupulous person," she adds.

Refugee advocates say some people are making the dangerous and desperate journey because of the Safe Third Country Agreement between the United States and Canada. It mandates that those seeking asylum must make a refugee claim in the first country they arrive in. It was intended to prevent refugees from so-called "asylum-shopping," but may be inadvertently encouraging risky behavior.

The Canada Border Services Agency isn't releasing numbers on how many people they picked up this past weekend. But in January 2017 there were 452 asylum claims processed in Quebec alone. That's up from 137 claims in Quebec in January 2016. These numbers include people who walked or drove illegally across the U.S.-Canada border, as well as those who flew into the country.

Habel says the numbers of those seeking asylum in Canada has been up in recent months. She explains that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol the areas along the border that are in between legal points of entry, while the Canadian Border Services Agency has full jurisdiction at point of entries.

Habel says many parts of the U.S.-Canada border are remote and not manned, but even on backcountry roads they do have cameras.

When the Mounties pick up someone who has entered Canada illegally, they make an arrest, assess if he or she is carrying weapons or has a criminal background. Then if the person is determined not to be a threat, they are turned over to border patrol where they can apply for refugee status.

Habel says the Canadian police are coordinating with U.S. officials as they investigate smuggling rings that may be transporting asylum seekers over the U.S.-Canada border.

Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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