Canada to begin turning back asylum seekers at US border

Canada’s government announced Friday that it will shut down a controversial policy of turning away asylum-seekers who attempt to cross the US border without inspection and who have already claimed asylum.

From July 30, the government will deploy the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to turn away anyone attempting to cross the border between official checkpoints, including in large urban centres, in which the number of asylum seekers is far greater than in rural areas where land border infrastructure is not as widespread, the government said.

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During 2018, there were more than 21,000 asylum seekers crossing the border illegally in Canada. The situation presented a significant challenge to the government and prompted a series of announcements last year, beginning with plans to erect a third bridge on the US side of the border to ease movement in and out of the US.

Last week, after interviewing potential border jumpers, federal police announced that some tried to jump off trains with broken-down cars but were intercepted by the RCMP police force. Since January, 23 people who attempted to cross illegally have died, prompting anxiety among residents of those regions.

Since entering the Canada-US border last year, more than 21,000 asylum seekers have crossed between official checkpoints. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

On Thursday, prime minister Justin Trudeau denied charges that Canada is not doing enough to alleviate the crisis, but Canadian officials have cited the perception of inaction and the Trump administration’s aggressive policy towards migrants as additional deterrents to more attempts at asylum.

In January, the cabinet approved a motion designed to improve Mexico’s status as a safe country to which immigrants seeking asylum can refer, but the decision angered refugee advocates who say the plan needs to be expanded to cover all parts of North America.

“It should be a safe country that if somebody arrives, they can seek asylum there,” said Amnesty International Canada’s Erin Weir. “The message right now, it doesn’t seem to be getting through to people that, if you reach the US, you should choose Canada because we are safe.”

Officials said that while asylum seekers would continue to have the option of filing applications at official points, border resources would be adjusted to process them within a reasonable time.

“Since the launch of our collective vision for a co-operative approach to this challenge more than a year ago, we have been clear that the most appropriate approach would be to adapt what we are doing now to reach the concerns of the vast majority of Canadians who support legitimate refugees coming to Canada,” the interior minister, David Lametti, said in a statement.

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