Why a visit from the Haitian government has Quebec immigration lawyers worried
'We want to make sure if they are sent back, that they won't be facing problems,' lawyer says
By Benjamin Shingler,CBC NewsPosted: Aug 09, 2017 4:50 PM ETLast Updated: Aug 10, 2017 10:15 AM ET
A visit by Haitian government representatives to Montreal as thousands of people from the country seek asylum here is raising alarm among Quebec immigration lawyers.
Haiti's Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue and Stéphanie Auguste, the minister for nationals living abroad, met with Mayor Denis Coderre after arriving in Montreal on Tuesday. The pair had even hoped to meet with asylum seekers staying at the Olympic Stadium, Rodrigue told a news conference alongside Coderre.
In the end, they did not visit the stadium, said a spokesperson for PRAIDA, the provincial organization that assists arrivals to Quebec in their first months.
The visit, however, is still cause for concern, said Jean-Sébastien Boudreault, head of the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers. He said any contact with the Haitian government could compromise the safety and privacy of those seeking refuge from the country.
"We need to make sure, first and foremost, that we are protecting the people we are supposed to be protecting, which are the people who are seeking a refugee status," Boudreau said in an interview.
"Some of them may not be received as refugees, might not meet the requirements of refugee claimant as stated in Canadian law. So, some of them might be sent back to Haiti and we want to make sure if they are sent back, that they won't be facing problems."
The visit from the Haitian ministers coincided with a surge in asylum seekers from the country.
There are 2,620 asylum seekers in temporary housing in Quebec. Seventy per cent of those who entered Quebec in recent weeks are of Haitian origin, Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said last week.
The Canadian military was dispatched to build a camp on Wednesday to provide shelter to the new arrivals as they await processing.
Minister downplays concerns
At the news conference, Rodrigue tried to downplay the concerns, saying they were only visiting to offer support.
Rodrigue told reporters they are on a "fact-finding mission" to learn about the Haitians who came to Canada, and to see what kind of agreement can be reached with the Canadian government.
They will also help Haitians without identification get the documents they need in order to access essential services, such as passports and birth certificates, Auguste said.
For his part, Coderre said their presence was a sign that the government and Haitian President Jovenel Moïse are "taking the problem seriously."
The Haitian ministers were invited to Montreal by Haiti's ambassador to Canada, Coderre said.
The federal government learned of the ministers' visit two days before they arrived, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said. In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it will protect "the personal information of all asylum seekers."
"No information on individual cases has been shared with the Haitian ministers," the statement said.
A lot of them will be sent back: lawyer
Thousands of Haitian nationals continue to cross illegally into Quebec in the hopes of making a refugee claim.
A group of asylum seekers leave Olympic Stadium to go for a walk in Montreal last week. The stadium is being used as temporary housing to deal with the influx of asylum seekers arriving from the United States. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
To be successful, a claimant must demonstrate he or she has a legitimate fear of persecution, war or other violence in their country of origin.
Many of them are likely to see their claim rejected, Boudreau said.
"You have to have personal reasons not to be sent back," he said. "I am afraid that a lot of them will be returned because they do not meet the requirements of refugees."
Haitians join other refugee groups in fleeing to Canada
To spot the failure of U.S. immigration policy, you don't need to look further than Quebec.
Fearing deportation, as many as 150 Haitians have been crossing the border into Canada every day this past week, hoping the United State’s neighbor to the north will have a more lenient stance than that of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Haitians living in the United States are not alone in looking to Canada for sanctuary. Fleeing the Trump administration’s crackdowns and deportations, over 4,300 migrants and asylum seekers from other countries, such asSudanandSyria, have crossed into Canada from the United States since the start of the year. And what the Trump administration does in January could make things even worse.
That’s when the temporary protected status (TPS) covering roughly 50,000 Haitians who came here before 2011 expires. They were granted the TPS after an earthquake in January 2010 devastated their country, with the most recentextensionby the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) holding until January 22, 2018.
While Canada has vowed to take in asylum seekers from some countries – notably, Syria – the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could also be on track to deport Haitians.
Trudeau has twice extended the ban on the deportations, but the last moratorium on deporting Haitians expired in August 2016. This, theCBC reports, prompted 3,200 Haitians without legal status in Canada to apply for residency based on humanitarian grounds. Some have received deportation orders, said Jaggi Singh, an organizer and member of the Montreal-based Solidarity Across Borders.
Given the length of time they’ve already been living in the country, Singh said, many have been allowed to access “special procedures” to stay in Canada.
Singh said that the increase in the number of irregular arrivals in Canada “is directly related to the election of Donald Trump.”
He points to thetravel ban, which aims to prevent migration from six Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan) and “the demonization of migrants in general” as factors creating a climate of fear and uncertainty for migrants and refugees in the United States.
“If you’re a migrant of Arab origin, of Latin American origin, of Haitian origin, of Muslim origin, your integrity and dignity is directly under attack by the climate created under the Trump administration,” he said, adding that the framework for a lot of the issues facing migrants and refugees in the United States were built by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
When asked who he is seeing cross the border, Singh responded, “Families — mostly families.”
TheSafe Third Country Agreementprevents people from applying for refugee status at the border, so once these “irregular” arrivals are processed, they are given access to health care and a work permit. They can also find housing and live there until their refugee claims are processed. If their claims are rejected, they will face deportation.
The deportation of Haitian asylum-seekers and refugees in the United States would seriously impact the development of Haiti. To start with, said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, remittances from these 50,000 people alone support somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people in Haiti.
“It would be a catastrophe – it would be destabilizing Haiti and it would increase desperation in Haiti, causing more sea migration, causing a commitment of U.S. Coast Guard resources,” said Forester.
“Haiti’s stability is in our national interest,” he added.
The argument for deporting Haitians is that seven years after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake thatkilled at least 46,000(some estimates peg fatalities at220,000), followed by a cholera epidemic (caused by U.N. peacekeepers,killing around 10,000),Haiti is now safe and stable.
However, asThinkProgress reported in May, while DHS says Haiti is safe for Haitians, the State Department feels that it is unsafe for Americans, specifically citing the “security environment and lack of adequate medical facilities and response” as reasons why Americans should reconsider traveling there.
In fact, even theDHS memooutlining the reasons why the TPS should end in January 2018 points out that “Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere” and that 40 percent of the population lacks access to health care.
Still, it reasons, Haiti had problems before the 2010 earthquake and so that particular disaster (nor the cholera epidemic, nor Hurricane Matthew, which further battered the country in 2016) aren’t sufficient reasons to allow Haitians to stay in the United States.
“Haiti is a textbook case for TPS because of the three calamities [the earthquake, cholera and Hurricane Matthew],” said Forester. “They’re dead wrong about there being enough progress.”
The original version of the article misidentified Jaggi Singh’s organizational affiliation.
Haitians flee over US border into Canada over WhatsApp hoax
Text said the Canadian government would cover 'the fees'
Around 58,000 Haitians are living in the US under temporary protection status (TPS) since the Caribbean island was ravaged by an earthquake in 2010.
However, the US President has threatened to end the status, leading many to consider Canada, especially after false rumours spread the country was automatically welcoming people with TPS.
One message, sent via WhatsApp and reported by CBC, said Canada "invited and even encouraged all Hatians to apply for residence."
It went on to say the Canadian government would cover "the fees".
But the false information could mean many Haitians will face deportation back to the US or even Haiti if their asylum claims in Canada are rejected.
To cope with the increase, Montreal's Olympic stadium has been used as a temporary shelter for up to 1,050 asylum seekers.
Last weekend, hundreds rallied at the stadium to show their support for the asylum seekers, while an anticipated anti-immigration protest failed to materialise.