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Quebec Opens 1976 Olympic Stadium In Montreal To House Overflow Of Refugees

Shown here in 1976, the year Montreal hosted the summer Olympics, this stadium will house the overflow of asylum-seekers.
Shown here in 1976, the year Montreal hosted the summer Olympics, this stadium will house the overflow of asylum-seekers. The cots are in a windowless, concrete hallway near the concession stands.

Quebec continues to be inundated with asylum-seekers fleeing the U.S. to reach Canada. In order to house the influx of people, the government has opened the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

The number of people sneaking into Quebec from the U.S. has been steadily increasing all year.

Nearly 800 people crossed illegally in June alone. Many of them made their way to rural roads in New York and New England to walk across the border. 

"The influx of asylum-seekers and the new pace of people coming in has had an impact on the processing times for these claims by the federal government," says Kathleen Weil, Quebec's Minister of Immigration.

Many are fleeing the U.S. because they fear their asylum claims won't be granted here, and Canada has been openly welcoming to refugees. 

The Canadian board that hears asylum cases is so backlogged that Immigration lawyers say it's running several months behind. This leaves many asylum-seekers waiting in limbo to learn whether they can remain in Canada.

However Weil says Quebec has systems in place to accommodate the influx of refugees. 

"Over the entire year the federal government believes that the number of asylum seekers will be similar to what we saw in 2008: some 36,000 claims for all of Canada, including 12,000 in Quebec," says Weil.

To handle the influx the government has set up several hundred cots at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal for temporary housing. 

In the meantime, asylum seekers have access to health care, French language classes, and they can also apply for work permits. 

"There are people coming in who have gone through very difficult circumstances," says Lucie Charlebois, a Quebec minister for public health. 

"Often they have very little money, very few personal belongings and they are fragile. Many are people who have gone through a tough time."

Charlebois says that's why the government is offering support, including social services, health care and temporary housing.

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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