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Memorandum of understanding among several law enforcement agencies will allow some boat-borne asylum-seekers to ‘safely, legally and expeditiously’ enter Canada
Canada’s federal border agency will not process some asylum-seekers who cross the border between official checkpoints, but will instead let them pass through the country for entry to Canada, to deal with a growing refugee crisis, according to a memorandum of understanding announced on Wednesday.
The move, which essentially means they will not be turned back, was undertaken by Canada’s border agency with the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec and the federal government.
In the memorandum, the agency said it was introducing the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy in response to the increasing number of asylum-seekers crossing the border into Canada, mostly through unofficial checkpoints on the US-Canada border, especially from the US-Mexico border.
Recent record-setting warm temperatures in the US and strong winds in the Canadian mountains means watermelons and other produce are now beginning to appear in Canadian fields, which migrants can see as a way to cross to Canada without establishing themselves in a formal country, posing a new risk of capture by border agents.
Since January, 843 people have made 1,583 refugee claims at official Canadian checkpoints, a dramatic increase from 174 claims from the same month a year ago.
Temperatures are still warming in the northern United States, but are expected to gradually cool this spring and summer, so the number of people crossing the border will begin to drop. But the abrupt number of migrants crossing into Canada could create a long, protracted stream of asylum-seekers that could be even harder to stop.
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Refugee advocates said “wet foot, dry foot” was unfair and hindered by the physical separation between Canada and the US, but insisted the new policy was not draconian and in line with international law.
The Canadian government also announced an additional $24m (£16.6m) for government departments and agencies working on the refugee crisis, and refugee agencies. The new money will allow states to open temporary shelters for those arriving by boat or plane.
In addition, Canada will for the first time allow asylum-seekers to apply for temporary refugee status through a nationwide application centre, from where they can have their refugee claim confirmed in one or two weeks, versus the four months previously required, immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said.
The federal government also plans to partner with the United Nations refugee agency to help process the large number of asylum-seekers arriving through unofficial crossings into Quebec in recent months.
“If it takes 20 days for us to process you and your claim, we just want to try to get it done sooner,” said Gilles Moissonneuve, the ministry’s permanent representative to the UN refugee agency.
The processing is expected to cost roughly $4m per year.