In conversations at coffee shops in border towns across Canada, the talk inevitably turns to the latest political move by an unpredictable president to the south and what that means for the flow of people into this country.
The stream of refugees across the Canada-U.S. border increased after the election of Donald Trump last November, and grew even larger following his first attempt at a controversial travel ban on citizens from certain countries in January. With Trump announcing new restrictions on citizens from North Korea, Chad and Venezuela last weekend, there was concern about another wave of asylum seekers making the trek north.
But our perception of what is happening at the border is not an accurate representation of what’s going on, experts who work in the field say. The number of asylum claims is not unprecedented, they say — it’s more like Canada getting back to what was normal earlier this century.
Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Canada, said there has been an increase in asylum claims compared to last year, but in terms of Canadian history, the number of people is still manageable.
“[We need] to paint a more nuanced picture because I think we, including us [at UNHCR]… at the beginning really focused on a decision in the U.S. [leading] to something that happened in Canada,” he said.
“But then when we started looking at the profile, it was more complicated than that.”
Surge in claimants not unprecedented
From January to July, the flow of people crossing the border irregularly — not at an official port of entry — reached 13,211, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reports.
More than 800 came into Manitoba, but the vast majority — 11,896 — crossed on the well-trodden path into Quebec near Plattsburgh, N.Y.