Yeah, you take them, dumbasses.
Refugees seeking a new life stream across Canadian border due to ‘anti-immigrant feeling’ in Donald Trump’s America
Refugees arrive at St Bernard de Lacolle in Quebec after crossing from the United States Credit: David Millward/The Telegraph
by David Millward, St Bernard de Lacolle, Quebec
Telegraph, 22 February 2017 • 8:41pm
It is just a 12 foot wide ditch at the end of an unmade road in rural Quebec where the border between the US and Canada is marked by an orange wooden stake and a five feet high stone obelisk.
This ditch at St Bernard de Lacolle, about an hour’s drive south of Montreal, is just one of the unmanned border crossings along the 5,000 mile long border that has seen a surge in the number of asylum seekers since Donald Trump won the White House.
What was once a slow trickle is becoming a steady stream as asylum seekers are more confident of a friendly reception from Justin Trudeau’s government than the United States under Donald Trump.
In early February, 42 asylum claims were filed in just a weekend at Quebec’s land borders. In January there were 506 applications in total and many believe the number will increase. Colombia, Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Burundi topped the applications list.
“It seems to be a combination of the US election, the general anti-immigrant feeling that it seems to be creating and many other international factors,” said Eric Taillefer, vice president of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association.
The unmanned crossings are the route of choice for refugees because of the Safe Third Country agreement between the US and Canada which sets out the rules for claiming asylum.
Refugees presenting themselves at an official border crossing will be turned back by the Canadian authorities because they should have applied for asylum in the United States.
The same rules do not apply for hundreds of refugees who have pitched up at a remote unmanned crossing point.
If the refugees are in America legally, then US border officials are powerless to intervene as they make their way towards Canada.
“There are a lot of country roads,” said David Cohen, a Quebec-based immigration lawyer.
“If you can make a case that you have a legitimate fear of persecution then you are entitled to become a lawful permanent resident which means you can get health care and can work,” Mr Cohen said.
The border between the US and Canada
The border between the US and Canada Credit: David Millward
There has been significant cross border traffic elsewhere including Emerson, a town on the Manitoba-North Dakota border.
At St Bernard de Lacolle the normal means of reaching the ditch is to take a taxi from Plattsburgh in New York, about 27 miles to the south. The going rate for a ride seems to be in the region of $200 (£161). Trying to walk through the woods is not advised given the presence of the odd bear and cougar.
At least one of the families told their taxi driver they were making the trip to escape Donald Trump.
Once they arrive, there is a welcoming committee of RCMP police waiting for them.
Being arrested and taken into the custody is the object of the exercise.
Canadian police officer carries a refugee baby Credit: David Millward/The Telegraph
What follows is almost a ritual. A Canadian police officer stands in the ditch and tells the new arrivals they are committing an offence should they go beyond the orange stake.
The warnings are ignored and the refugees are arrested, handcuffed and handed over to the Canadian Border Services Agency for their asylum applications to be processed after questioning at an office in Lacolle nearby.
There was no attempt to resist being arrested on Monday when refugees from Sudan, Yemen, Turkey, Syria, Mauritania and Eritrea clambered or, given the snow, slid through the ditch to reach Canada.
The police were a model of restraint as they went through the formalities of processing the refugees.
A basket carrying a crying baby was carried carefully to a waiting police car. The new arrivals, huddled in hoodies and puffer jackets as protection against the freezing temperatures, were handcuffed almost apologetically.
On this occasion the new arrivals were whisked away quickly. But earlier this month Yasser Ahmed, a Yemeni computer programmer who had lived in Saudi Arabia, had the time to describe why he made the long journey from the Middle East.
Refugees arrive at St Bernard de Lacolle in Quebec after crossing from the United States. Credit: David Millward/The Telegraph
“After 10 years in Saudi Arabia, what do I have?” he told the Montreal Gazette.
“I have nothing. But I am not sad about this. Here I am in a safe country with my life with my health and with my wife.”
The dramatic rise in numbers has seen a slight change of tactics by the police, explained Beryl Tovim, 84. Originally from Hackney, she has lived a couple of hundred yards away from the ditch for decades.
The Canada (right)/United States border Credit: Paul Chiasson/AP
“They used to be able to get into the village and then they would ask if they were in Canada and then ask us to call the police.
“Last winter there were people underneath the canvas or in the barns. We would give them a glass of water, they were not looking to hide.
“The police pick them up, they are not treated badly, they are just put into a van.”
A refugee claimant from Mauritania crosses the border into Canada from the United State Credit: Paul Chiasson/AP
The increased number of refugees and police represents something of a change for St Bernard de Lacolle, a small farming community in an area dotted with orchards and even the odd vineyard, which did rather well out of prohibition.
Police now believe it is easier to pick the refugees up as they cross the ditch, rather than allowing them to make their way inland.
Not every arrival is benign. In December somebody was arrested crossing the border with 23 handguns.
Police are also investigating those responsible for what they regard as human trafficking.
But their approach is tempered by awareness of the wars and disasters which have prompted the refugees to flee and the plight of those who arrive at the border.
“I am a father of two myself,” said Brian Byrne, the RCMP’s local detachment commander.
“We try to make their misery as short as possible.”
Not everybody is happy with the softly softly approach of the police and the tolerant immigration policy of Justin Trudeau’s government.
“There is no work for people in Quebec,” said Ginette Barrière, 65. “There are no good jobs and we don’t have money for the old people. But all we are doing is giving, giving, giving.”
At the moment the arrivals at the remote crossing points come from global trouble spots in the Middle East and Africa. But David Cohen’s experience as an immigration lawyer suggests there could be a shift in the months ahead.
“There are a lot of undocumented immigrants in the United States. If Donald Trump goes ahead with the deportations some may decide they would rather come here than be returned to central America.”