Justin Trudeau feels heat over open-door policy for asylum-seekers

Discussion in 'Immigration/Illegal Immigration' started by barryqwalsh, Aug 19, 2018.

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    A long line of asylum-seekers wait to illegally cross the Canada/US border


    It was a single tweet, but it is one that has come to haunt Justin Trudeau. On January 28 last year, only days after Donald Trump was sworn in as US President, the Canadian Prime Minister took a deliberate shot at Trump’s hardline immigration policies by trumpeting how Canada had an open door for refugees.

    “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #welcometocanada,” he tweeted.

    Eighteen months on, Trudeau’s tweet has rebounded on him. Canada is facing a reckoning about what sort of country it wants to be as a surge in the number of asylum-seekers tests its tolerance and its self-proclaimed pride as a traditional haven for refugees.

    “There is a problem at the border, the border must be enforced,” says Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister responsible for immigration, who says the Trudeau government’s lax policies account for an unsustainable influx of asylum-seekers.


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    CAMERON STEWART

    AUGUST 18, 2018

    It was a single tweet, but it is one that has come to haunt Justin Trudeau. On January 28 last year, only days after Donald Trump was sworn in as US President, the Canadian Prime Minister took a deliberate shot at Trump’s hardline immigration policies by trumpeting how Canada had an open door for refugees.

    “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #welcometocanada,” he tweeted.

    Eighteen months on, Trudeau’s tweet has rebounded on him. Canada is facing a reckoning about what sort of country it wants to be as a surge in the number of asylum-seekers tests its tolerance and its self-proclaimed pride as a traditional haven for refugees.

    “There is a problem at the border, the border must be enforced,” says Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister responsible for immigration, who says the Trudeau government’s lax policies account for an unsustainable influx of asylum-seekers.

    Last year Canada received a record 50,420 applications for asylum, more than double the 23,930 it received in 2016 and the highest level since the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board was created in 1989. Of these, almost 30,000 walked illegally across the border from the US into the province of Quebec — a situation Trudeau has been criticised for failing to deal with. In the first six months of this year, a further 10,261 crossed from New York state into Quebec.
    Now Trudeau, who initially was feted for his generosity to asylum-seekers, is facing a political and public backlash for failing to control Canada’s borders.

    “Justin Trudeau had a message of asking Canadians to have trust in our immigration system,” leader of the opposition Conservative Party Andrew Scheer says. “The problem is Canadians don’t have trust in the Liberals to manage it.”

    To the horror of some Canadians, the country now is experiencing its own version of the divisive refugee debates that have convulsed Germany, Italy and other European nations in recent years, and that have caused deep divisions in Australia.

    “What we are seeing is part of a global trend in liberal democracies where right-wing populist politicians are able to mobilise anxieties around uncontrolled borders for electoral gain, and that's what we are seeing now in Canada,” says Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think this would have happened in Canada without the global precedents that we are seeing.”

    But Richard Silvester, a 68-year-old nickel miner from Sudbury in rural Ontario, says people in his town are not being manipulated by politicians, they simply are worried by the large numbers of asylum-seekers entering Canada. “Trump is sort of pushing people over the border into Canada and now we are saddled with these immigrants,” Silvester, who has been a miner for 50 years, tells Inquirer as he sits outside Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica.
    “Before it was OK because there were just a few coming in and Canadians are known for their generosity, but now it’s like, ‘Oh Jesus’.” Silvester’s wife, Teresa, 64, a retired hairdresser, adds: “What some people think is that asylum-seekers are taking the jobs when there are people suffering in our own cities without jobs.”

    A survey this month by the Angus Reid Institute found that two-thirds of Canadians (67 per cent) believe the issue of asylum-seekers crossing the border into Canada has become a crisis.

    The perception is shared not only by conservative voters but also by more than half of those who voted for the Liberal and New Democratic parties in 2015.
    The survey also found that 58 per cent of voters think Canada is being “too generous” to asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally — more than eight times as many as those who say Canada is not being “generous enough”.

    The Trudeau government describes the issue is a “challenge but not a crisis” and blames Canada’s conservatives for inflaming it.
    “I think one of the things that we’ve seen, in terms of what conservatives have been saying, is that they are playing, not just here in Canada but around the world, a very dangerous game around the politics of fear, the politics of division, of pitting
    Canadians against each other and raising the kinds of anxieties that, quite frankly, don’t help solve problems but actually hinder them,” Trudeau said last month.

    But faced with a potential voter backlash ahead of next year’s election, the Trudeau government has toughened its rhetoric, warning that Canada is “a country of laws” and that those who arrive illegally will not be granted asylum automatically.

    Canada’s asylum-seeker problem was triggered early last year by a combination of Trump’s election, Trudeau’s welcome tweet and a loophole in the law that allows asylum-seekers to walk into Canada from the US.

    Under the 2002 Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement, asylum-seekers must make a claim in the first safe country they reach, therefore those who turn up at an official border station on the US-Canadian border are turned away. But a loophole means asylum claims can be made by individuals who enter Canada through unofficial entry points. So tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have travelled a well-worn path to the town of Champlain, New York, on the US border with Quebec.

    From there they catch a taxi to the border and walk freely along a 100m dirt track into Canada and into the arms of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who detain them.
    Most are released within 72 hours into a shelter or to family and friends while they wait for their hearing. In the interim they are entitled to healthcare and other public benefits, and even can apply for a Canadian work permit.

    Last year Canada granted asylum to about 60 per cent of all asylum-seekers who crossed the border. By contrast, those applying for asylum in the US must wait at least six months before they can work. As part of its crackdown on legal and illegal immigration, the Trump administration has removed immigration protections for more than 300,000 people in the US, many from countries in the Caribbean and in Central America.

    These tougher rules in the US compared with those in Canada have led to Haitians as well as Nigerians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and many others crossing the border in unprecedented numbers.

    Canada has never experienced such a huge influx of asylum-seekers and is poorly equipped to deal with it.
    At one stage last year, Montreal’s Olympic stadium was used to handle the influx, and last week in Toronto hundreds of refugee claimants living in college dormitories were moved to federally funded hotel rooms.

    “We have a problem and we need help,” Toronto mayor John Tory says.
    There is now a backlog of more than 40,000 asylum-seeker cases waiting to be heard.
    In June the country’s most populated province, Ontario, elected a populist new leader, Doug Ford, who wants the Trudeau government to pay $C72 million ($75m) to the province to compensate for the cost of paying for the “mess” of “illegal border crossers”.
    “The federal government encouraged illegal border-crossers to come into our country and the federal government continues to usher people across the US-Quebec border into Ontario,” Ford’s press secretary, Simon Jefferies, says. “This has resulted in a housing crisis and threats to the services that Ontario families depend on.”

    The Ontario government also has accused asylum-seekers of being “queue jumpers”, a claim that Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, himself a former Somali refugee, says is “irresponsible, it’s divisive, it’s fearmongering and it’s not Canadian, and it’s very dangerous”.

    The asylum-seeker debate in Canada has fed into other issues such as security.
    At the main mosque in Quebec City, the windows are still marked with bullet holes where 28-year-old student Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire in January last year after reading Trudeau’s tweet welcoming refugees into Canada. He fired 48 rounds at the 53 men who were praying in the mosque, killing six of them, and shocking a nation that had prided itself on harmonious multiculturalism.

    Herman Deparice-Okomba, director of the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalisation Leading to Violence in Montreal, tells Inquirer that in the past year some right-wing groups have tried to mobilise around the asylum-seeker issue and use it to target hate crimes against Muslims.

    But he adds that his centre has witnessed a rise in extremism from both sides, including Islamic radicalisation.
    “Over the past year, the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalisation Leading to Violence has witnessed an increase in the calls requesting assistance related to far-right extremism and radicalisation,” he says.

    “This trend was observable even before the attack at the Quebec mosque in January 2017, but it has been nonstop since then.”
    In Quebec there is generally less tolerance of asylum-seekers because many see multiculturalism as diluting Quebec’s francophone culture.
    Last year Quebec became Canada’s only province to require people, including those wearing niqabs and burkas, to show their faces before gaining access to public services.
    The leader of the nationalist Parti Quebecois, Jean-Francois Lisee, even suggested a Trump-like solution of building a fence along the southern US border of the province to stem the flow of asylum-seekers.

    Fanny Roy, a 37-year-old Haitian who was adopted by a Canadian family when she was six months old, says cities and small towns in Quebec often have very different views of refugees and asylum-seekers.
    “I once lived in a small town called Riviere-du-Loup and I don’t think they were ready to work with a girl from Haiti,” Roy, a nurse and mother of a 17-year-old daughter, tells Inquirer as she sits outside the old walls of Quebec City. “I think people from small towns who don’t travel much don’t open their eyes. But here in Quebec City it is different. I don’t have a problem with my race here. I find people are very accepting of me.”

    Estelle Aka, a 34-year-old refugee who arrived in Quebec City from Ivory Coast in western Africa six months ago, also says she has had no problems being accepted.
    “There are always two kinds of people and I don’t worry if somebody doesn’t like me,” the mother-of-two says as she eats her lunch on a park bench. “But it is a better life for me in Canada than it is in Ivory Coast and it is a better life for my children."

    Frank Likely, a broadcaster turned pastor in Nova Scotia, says he understands why some people are frustrated by the administrative chaos caused by the large influx of asylum-seekers into Canada. But the 67-year-old says it is the government’s responsibility to sort it out and that those asylum-seekers should be welcomed.

    “There is more than enough room and wealth for more immigrants into this country,” he says as he sits in a park in Quebec with his wife, Paula, 63.
    Says Paula: “People who don’t like them (asylum-seekers) have a right to their opinion but I think they are just afraid of the unknown.”

    Jeffrey Reitz, professor of ethnic and immigration studies at the University of Toronto, says that although the asylum-seeker issue is a sensitive one in Canada, he doesn’t see a long-term change in the nation’s approach to the issue.

    “Australians are much more critical of refugees and the policies in your country have been very controversial — we haven’t seen anything like that yet in Canada,” he says although he concedes that there is still potential for the issue to “blow up”.

    “After (the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks) people said, ‘Oh that is the end of multiculturalism in Canada’ — but it didn’t happen. So I am sceptical that there will be a long-term backlash against refugees in Canada as result of this.”

    Craig Smith of the Global Migration Lab also draws a distinction between attitudes in Australia and Canada.
    He believes most Canadians still see a generous approach to asylum-seekers as being “one of the most important aspects of our international reputation”.

    “That is quite different to Australia’s public opinion,” he says
    “In Australia you have pretty strong support across the political spectrum saying it’s not Australian responsibility and we should be harder on asylum-seekers.”

    But while the Trudeau government hasn’t openly retreated from its embrace of asylum-seekers, it has watched the tide of public opinion turn against it and is taking steps to ensure it modifies its tone on the issue.
    It has sent Hussen to Nigeria to ask that nation’s government to help by discouraging its citizens from crossing into Canada.

    It also has urged the Trump administration to deny visas to people who authorities suspect may then travel to Canada.

    The new tone was apparent in an opinion piece written last month by Hussen. He blamed the influx not on Trudeau’s tweet but on global trends.
    “Governments around the world are facing significant challenges in dealing with a dramatic global increase in refugees and Canada is not immune to this challenge,” he wrote.

    Hussen then issued a stern warning to would-be asylum seekers: “Let me be clear: those who do not qualify for Canada’s protection are not allowed to stay. For more than a year now members of our government, from the Prime Minister on down, have been bluntly reminding people that the asylum system is not a free ticket to Canada.”

    Today it seems no one in the Canadian government, from Hussen to Trudeau, is likely to repeat the words Trudeau so proudly tweeted only 18 months ago: “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #welcometocanada.”


    Cameron Stewart is The Australian’s Washington correspondent; he is also US contributor for Sky News Australia.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
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