With COVID-19 clampdown, number of asylum seekers at Canada-U.S. border slows to a trickle

As expected. Full March numbers not out yet so these interim numbers highlight the impact from March 21:

Sweeping changes at Canada’s borders under emergency pandemic restrictions have slowed cross-border traffic to an unparalleled trickle, including people claiming persecution abroad.

Six asylum seekers were turned back at Canada’s border with the United States under recent COVID-19 restrictions, four of them irregular border crossers, from March 21 to April 2, according to data from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

March 21 was the day the highly unusual emergency order under the Quarantine Act prohibited entry into Canada by people claiming refugee protection.

Only one asylum seeker has been allowed to proceed into Canada under exemptions to the closed border rule, which could mean the person was an American citizen.

Of the four irregular crossers, which are sometimes referred to as illegal border crossers, two were stopped after crossing into Quebec and two into British Columbia.

The remaining two asylum seekers arrived from the United States at a border entry point in southern Ontario and were also turned back, CBSA said. The agency refused to say what country any of these people were seeking protection from.

“Failure to comply with a direct back order could result in the foreign national to become inadmissible to Canada,” said Jacqueline Callin, a spokeswoman for CBSA. “This regulation will be applied to all foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada if their entry is prohibited — regardless if they enter irregularly or at a designated land port of entry.

“Asylum claimants will be asked to provide basic identifying information and requested to return to make their asylum claim after the temporary prohibition has been lifted.”

That stands in sharp contrast to what is typical border activity.

CBSA would not provide the numbers of asylum claims for the same period last year. However, as a point of contrast, in all of March 2019, the RCMP made 1,001 interceptions of asylum seekers who did not cross at a formal border checkpoint: 967 in Quebec, 22 in B.C., and 13 in Manitoba.

That same month there were a total of 1,870 asylum claims made at formal border crossing points, which was itself one of the lowest monthly totals for the year.

There are far fewer new cases of refugee claimants at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

The Refugee Protection Division of the IRB received 304 refugee protection claims nationally from March 21 and April 5, according to IRB data. While a specific comparison to the same period last year was not available, in 2019, the IRB had an overall average of 2,245 referrals in a two-week period.

This does not mean all 304 claimants crossed the border since the COVID-19 travel restrictions, however. There may be delays between a claimant’s arrival in Canada and a referral to the IRB, said Anna Pape, a spokeswoman for the IRB.

The steep drop in asylum seekers in Canada mirrors the unparalleled drop in all border traffic under COVID-19.

From March 23 to March 29, there were almost 82 per cent fewer land crossings into Canada compared with the same period last year, and an almost 85 per cent drop in people arriving by air.

On March 16, in an abrupt about-face, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said foreign travellers were prevented from entering Canada, except for U.S. citizens, to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Despite that, the next day, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair said irregular border crossers would undergo medical screening but still be allowed to proceed for assessment of their immigration claims in Canada.

The following day,  borders were clamped down even tighter with the Canada-U.S. border closed to all non-essential travel, regardless of citizenship.

On March 20, in a further change, the government announced that asylum seekers will also be rejected at the border for the time being.

All travellers arriving in Canada — including Canadian citizens — are being met with increased intervention and screening in light of COVID-19.

Temperatures, however, are not taken by CBSA at borders or airports.

During a similar but less severe pandemic, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, temperature testing was found to be an ineffective control, CBSA said. During SARS, 2.3 million travellers had temperatures taken at Canada’s airports.

“Despite this intensive screening effort, no cases of SARS were detected using these methods,” said Callin.

Source: With COVID-19 clampdown, number of asylum seekers at Canada-U.S. border slows to a trickle

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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