Thousands of Haitians living in America are fleeing to Canada and claiming asylum, following a May announcement by the Trump administration that Haitians living in America could lose their protected status next January. According to a report by CTV, over 10,000 Haitians living in America have already attempted to flee to Canada since the beginning of the year, representing more than 15 percent of the 60,000 Haitians who could lose their protected status.
According to the Miami Herald, many Haitian asylum-seekers are being drawn to Canada by misleading posts on social media. One such message, circulated amongst French-speaking Haitians last month on WhatsApp, stated that “The Consul of Canada in the USA held a meeting in New Jersey for more than two hours. It invites and even encourages all Haitians (with or without TPS) to apply for a Canadian residence.” The message included a phone number, purportedly for a Creole-speaking attorney, and claimed that the Canadian government would reduce legal fees for Haitian asylum-seekers.
The problem? The number is disconnected, no Canadian consulate in America (there are 12) held such a meeting, and the Canadian government is struggling to cope with an influx of refugees who may not be eligible for asylum.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispatched Emmanuel Dubourg, Canada’s only Haitian-born Member of Parliament, to Miami to deliver a message: there is no new immigration program for Haitians in Canada. The Canadian government also prepared public announcements in English, French, and Creole, to be distributed through Canadian consulates in the U.S.
“It’s not true that Canada is wide open,” Dubourg said at a visit to Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Center Complex. “Crossing the border…is no free pass.” Dubourg headed to a closed-door meeting later that day with nearly two dozen Haitian community leaders and immigration advocates to emphasize the message, during which he categorized the messages circulating on social media as “misleading information.”
“People are looking for ways to help themselves and their families. So they are, I would say, kind of desperate [and] are willing to accept that information.”
Many, including Dubourg and Haitian leaders in New York and Miami, believe that there is a profit motive behind the push to send Haitians north, and the Canadian government has opened an investigation into who is spreading the messages; Dubourg described the situation as “a racket.”
Meanwhile, many in Canada are questioning the integrity of their country’s immigration system, as the flood of asylum-seekers has put a serious strain on Quebec’s resources: tent cities have been established outside of Montreal, which the Canadian military had to be called in to construct. Trudeau said that while Canada remains “welcoming and open” to refugees, asylum-seekers still needed to apply through legal channels.
“Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage,” he added.
Dubourg stopped short of saying that Haitians should not come to Canada during his visit, but he stressed that they should follow the legal process to enter the country.
Local Haitian leader Marleine Bastien agreed with Dubourg, and also said that she felt criminals were trying to prey on Haitians. She added that the Canadian government should be focusing on a way to process Haitian refugees efficiently rather than trying to find those responsible for sending the messages.
“Canada needs to make sure their basic rights to due process are respected, put a moratorium on deportations back to Haiti and look at this accord with the U.S.”
Asylum-seekers crossing into Canada outside of legal channels are attempting to short-circuit an agreement known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, a Canada-United States treaty requiring asylum-seekers to seek sanctuary in the first country that they land in. The agreement has come under significant fire, particularly from Canadians, since the election of Donald Trump as president: critics, including Deborah Anker, the director of Harvard Law School’s immigration and refugee clinical program, hold that the United States may no longer be considered a safe destination for refugees.
Currently, Canada’s dominant Liberal Party has offered no statement on whether they will consider suspending the agreement.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]