The Canadian city of Montreal opened the grounds of one of its largest stadiums to asylum-seekers fleeing the United States.
Hundreds of refugees began moving into the city’s former Olympic Stadium on Monday, taking up temporary residence in a public hall.
Outfitted with dozens of cots, internet service, locker room showers, and concession stands, the makeshift shelter is being outfitted to accommodate at least 300 people.
Quebecois authorities said unprecedented numbers of asylum-seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canada land border over the course of the past month.
Some 1,500 men and women have sought refuge in the francophone province, marking a nigh-tenfold increase from July of 2016.
“We’re stretched almost to the limit,” said Francine Dupuis to The New York Times. Dupuis is a spokeswoman for the Quebec government agency tasked with handling new arrivals.
According to the Times, many of the refugees are crossing into Canada through New York, Vermont, and Maine. By avoiding official border crossings and simply sneaking through into Quebec, the hopeful migrants are able to flout ‘a 13-year old agreement between the United States and Canada requiring asylum seekers to assert their claim in the country they arrive in first.’
Under the confines of the Safe Third Country Agreement, anyone who stakes a claim to asylum at an official border crossing ‘must be denied refuge and sent back.’ However, dodging the formality of declaration and entering a country unofficially effectively renders the treaty moot.
Many of the refugee claimants settling into Montreal’s Olympic Stadium originally hail from Haiti and have been living in the United States legally for years.
Thousands of Haitians were allowed into America following the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010.
In May, President Donald Trump announced he wouldn’t extend the ‘temporary protection status’ afforded to Haitians who fled from disaster.
A recent re-evaluation by the Department of Homeland Security declared Haiti safe, which means many of the displaced individuals who fled to America in the earthquake’s wake could be sent back.
Between 50 and 100 asylum-seekers continue to illegally enter Canada daily.
Montreal City Councilor Harout Chitillian said on Monday that local officials are being asked to find more places to house asylum-seekers.
“A demand has been made to open other locations,” he said. “We cannot confirm right now what that space will be, its capacity, or where it will be. But we have received a request to open another space.”
Quebec’s Immigration Minister, Kathleen Well, said some 2,388 asylum-seekers are now being cared for in Montreal alone.
“Of this number, a little more than 700 people are staying in the Olympic stadium waiting for access to permanent lodging,” she said.
On Wednesday, Canadian media outlet CBC News reported that the country’s military was constructing a camp near the U.S. border to accommodate some of the arrivals. The facility could house up to 500 individuals and would consist of “modular tent shelters with floors, lighting and heating.”
Haitians who find their way into Quebec might find an affinity with the locals over their shared use of French, but there’s no guarantee most of the asylum-seekers will be allowed to stay.
To avoid eventual deportation, the would-be refugees will have to prove that being sent home poses a real from violence, crime, or persecution.
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