Update on Roxham Road
BRIDGES NOT BORDERS (February 2022)
It’s been a while since we have heard much news about asylum seekers crossing at Roxham Road. Since the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020), those seeking asylum in Canada have been returned to the USA. Approximately 400 people were returned to the USA during this period with some being imprisoned in the USA and several being deported to their country of origin, where one was immediately imprisoned. In November 21, 2021 the Federal Government changed the regulations to allow those seeking refugee status to remain in Canada after crossing irregularly. This was good news for those fleeing political, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation or domestic violence persecution.
During the pandemic border closure our local refugee support group, Bridges not Borders (www.bridgesnotborders), has been contacted by well over a hundred asylum seekers who were in desperate straits in the USA. Since November, many of them have entered Canada via Roxham to make a refugee claim (just over 2700 asylum seekers crossed in Quebec in December 2021, most via Roxham). Those not vaccinated or testing positive are quarantined. Montreal organizations have become re-mobilized to offer support in housing, job search support and other help.
The pressing concern at this moment is future of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). The STCA requires those crossing into Canada from the USA who seek asylum at an official border point be returned to the USA unless they meet one of four exceptions (it assumes the USA is ‘safe’ for refugees). However, if they cross the border at an irregular crossing (such as Roxham), they are already in Canada and the Agreement does not apply. The STCA has been challenged in the courts by Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and Canadian Council of Churches. Their case, which Bridges not Borders supports, says the USA is not safe for refugees and people should be allowed to claim asylum at an official border crossing (rendering Roxham unnecessary). Their case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada. However, recent articles in the press say the Canadian and USA governments are in negotiations to agree on a new STCA that will apply across the ENTIRE Canada-USA border. This means that anyone crossing at irregular entry points like Roxham will fall under the rules of the new STCA and be returned to the USA if they do not qualify for one of the exceptions (which may also change). This is disturbing news as it will push asylum seekers underground, taking perilous routes to cross. We have already seen disturbing examples of this in 2017 and recently when four people died crossing irregularly from Emerson, Manitoba into the USA.
At the moment Bridges Not Borders volunteers can’t go to Roxham on the American side because a Covid test (which must be paid privately) is required to return to Canada after even a short visit. We have received a request from Plattsburgh Cares for winter clothes and stuffed animals that they can give to people arriving at Roxham. Most of our supplies have been sent. There may be a campaign organized to gather more winter clothes if needed. It will be announced on the Hemmingford Community Events Facebook group page and on the website.
On a final note, for those interested in reading more about Roxham, please consult: ottawacitizen.com/opinion/
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xh-s8pXLUg (a TV report on the work of Plattsburgh Cares)