Thousands of kilometers separate Quebec from the Italian island of Lampedusa. One is seeing a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving there, despite the closure of Roxham Road. The other has been agitating fearmongers lately, as a record number of 11,000 migrants have landed there in less than a week, despite the anti-migrant policies of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni.
Even if there is an ocean between these two realities, they highlight the same obvious fact: closing double borders does not slow down migratory movements.
Populist speeches on migrants pass; war, poverty and the climate emergency, which are pushing more and more people into exile, remain. Policies of closure and criminalization of migration never prevent human beings from going elsewhere to see if they could survive or, with a little luck, maybe even live.
What changes, however, when we erect new barriers and barbed wire is that the trajectory of migrants often becomes more difficult and more perilous.
We see it in Europe. The Mediterranean is still today a cemetery for thousands of migrants, despite the surge of indignation and international solidarity caused by the photo of little Alan Kurdi in 2015. Since 2016, 20,743 migrants have died or disappeared in Mediterranean. Since January 2023 alone, more than 2,300 human beings have seen their dream of a better future sink to the bottom of the sea.
The situation is just as tragic for migrants who try their luck in North America. With 686 deaths and disappearances of migrants recorded on the border between the United States and Mexico in 2022, its crossing is now “the deadliest land route ever recorded for migrants in the world”, reported last week the International Organization for Migration.
Here, six months after the closure of Roxham, although it is still too early to obtain a complete picture of the effect that the modification of the Safe Third Country Agreement has had on asylum seekers, organizations helpers on the ground are already reporting heartbreaking situations and are worried about the future.
Although the overall picture of asylum seekers, now even more numerous, tends to change – the majority of them today arrive by plane and are in a less precarious state than those who could not help but go through Roxham Road – that does not mean that they are safe from precariousness.
Lack of knowledge of the asylum system means that many fall through the cracks and have access to very few services in this long obstacle course that is the asylum application process.
In Roxham, asylum seekers could be referred to a Regional Program for Reception and Integration of Asylum Seekers (PRAIDA) center for emergency accommodation for two weeks. There, they could get help from social workers to begin their process. From now on, if they have not applied for asylum at a port of entry, they are left to their own devices, notes Eva Gracia-Turgeon, general director of Foyer du monde.
It should also be noted that arrival by plane remains inaccessible for the most vulnerable asylum seekers. Often coming from countries at war, they cannot access a regular port of entry such as an airport, due to lack of visas and resources.
Their solution of last resort since the closure of Roxham Road: fall back on a breach in the renegotiated agreement between Ottawa and Washington according to which if you have been in the country for more than 14 days after an irregular entry and you have not been intercepted, the Safe Third Country Agreement does not apply and it is possible for you to file an asylum application.
Abdulla Daoud, general director of the Refugee Center, cites the example of young families from Afghanistan, Libya or Yemen who we recently saw arriving in Montreal in bad shape and hungry, after two weeks of clandestinity for which they took insane risks.
These asylum seekers are fewer in number, but they take more dangerous routes. They come and hide for 14 days, without warning anyone. Most are homeless. They find refuge in the forest. We’re starting to see more and more of it. Just last week, we saw nine families arrive.
Abdulla Daoud, Director General of the Refugee Center
We are talking about vulnerable populations fleeing war and persecution. Their stories, which bear witness to dangerous and inhumane situations, send shivers down the spine and make us fear the worst for the winter months.
One family described renting a storage unit to hide. “Six or seven of them crammed in there to sleep at night. They wanted to hide there until the 14 days were up. »
This is how where some people store their furniture, others find themselves forced to store their clandestine hopes. In the dark, holding their breath, paralyzed by the fear of being fired by the authorities for dreaming of a better life for their children.
Are we really there?
Before asylum seekers die trying to survive, Canada urgently needs to create new, safe paths to hope for them.