The Royal Canadian Mounted Police apprehended 22 refugees over the weekend as they tried to illegally cross the border into Canada from the U.S.
The nearly two dozen individuals were apprehended late Saturday near Emerson, Manitoba, which borders North Dakota and Minnesota. But while the tiny town of 671 has traditionally accepted refugees with open arms, residents are growing more uneasy with the recent uptick in illegal border crossings across Canada, more broadly.
So far in 2017, 99 refugees were caught while trying to cross into Emerson from the U.S., according to Global News. The Canadian government said it doesn’t have numbers for how many refugees entered the country in and around Emerson last year, specifically.
But Ralph Goodale, Canada’s public safety and emergency preparedness minister, insisted the recent reports are just hype.
“The Canada Border Service Agency is experienced in managing changing volumes, and the current increase along the southern border is below previous fluctuations,” Goodale told Global News.
But numbers provided by the Canadian government indicate there has been an uptick in refugee claimants in one other province.
In Champlain, New York, eight individuals — four adults and four children — escaped U.S. Border Patrol agents Friday to make it into Quebec. Reuters reported the agents were attempting to verify the refugees’ papers when one by one they got out of the car and ran across the border. One of the men said he and the other seven people were from Sudan and that they had been living and working in Delaware for the last two years. Sudan is one of the countries listed as part of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which temporarily bans travel to the U.S. from seven countries in the Middle East.
And near the Vermont-Canada border, another four refugees were arrested Tuesday while trying to cross into Canada illegally. The Canada Border Services Agency told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper that in January 452 people claimed refugee status in Quebec alone.
The Toronto Star reported that the Canada Border Services Agency wouldn’t say exactly how many people have tried to enter Canada as refugees so far this year. However, the newspaper reported that in 2016, there were 2,529 refugee claims made at the various ports of entry in Quebec, an average of about 211 per month, or less than half the number who claimed refugee status in Quebec just last month.
Further, the Globe and Mail reported 289 people claiming to be refugees tried to cross the border in Quebec October. Another 369 came during the month of November, while 591 people claiming to be refugees tried to enter Canada in December.
“I’m scared, the bigger the numbers — if we don’t have enough officials, someone is going to slip through the crack because there’s so many people to process,” Emerson Mayor Greg Janzen told Global News.
Janzen attributed the increase in refugees trying to leave the U.S. to President Donald Trump’s election, according to Global News.
Trump’s hardline stance on immigration and how the U.S. will address refugees, especially from the Middle East, became a popular talking point throughout his campaign. It then carried over into his administration as the president issued a temporary travel ban affecting seven Middle East countries. Another executive order temporarily suspends the entry of refugees from Syria and imposes a system of “extreme vetting” for refugees from other countries, CNN reported.
Those policies, Janzen told Global News, have caused refugees to leave the U.S. and escape to a country that’s more accepting of asylum seekers.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted just hours after Trump issued his travel ban: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Politico reported.
According to the CBC, it is illegal in Canada to evade border officials while trying to enter the country. Once individuals are in, however, they can claim refugee status, which allows them to be taken in for processing and apply for permanent residency.
“I think we’re just going to see them coming every day now, instead of just on the weekends. And the groups are going to get bigger and bigger,” Janzen said, according to ABC News.
“As the numbers get bigger there is growing concerns,” Janzen added, noting that he anticipates future problems with refugees committing crimes.
“It’s about to blow. I think there’s going to be confrontations. There’s going to be an incident,” Janzen told the CBC.
Manitoba Conservative Caucus Ted Falk said that “quite often [refugees] come in the middle of the night, they pound on the door, ring the doorbell, tap on the glass. Some [residents] are quite anxious about that situation.” Janzen added that his town just isn’t equipped to handle the influx of refugees, most of whom hail from African countries.
As a result, the Salvation Army in Winnipeg has begun taking in any and all refugees, vowing not to turn away even a single one. Global News reported that the Salvation Army in Winnipeg took in eight refugees Friday, along with another 20 who were scheduled to arrive Sunday.
“We’re able to manage it. We have various spaces we can use,” Maj. Shelley Kerr, a Salvation Army spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Falk is asking for help from the Canadian federal government because “we don’t know the people who are coming across.”
“Are they all coming across because of a desire to seek a better life? Or are they coming across perhaps because they are criminals?” Falk asked, according to the CBC.
Janzen offered a similar concern.
“This is becoming chaotic here already. I know the residents would like to [get] back to their normal lives and not have all these people coming in through town. And that’s the response I want to get from Ottawa,” Janzen said, according to Global News.