Nearly 60,000 new asylum seekers were registered in Quebec in the first 11 months of 2023, which has put “very significant pressure” on services, Premier François Legault wrote in an official letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
François Legault says growing number of asylum seekers putting ‘very significant pressure’ on servicesThe Canadian Press
· Posted: Jan 18, 2024 6:41 AM EST | Last Updated: January 18
Premier François Legault said that in 2022, Quebec took in more asylum seekers than the rest of the country combined. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)Quebec Premier François Legault is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to slow the influx of asylum seekers entering his province, which he said is nearing a “breaking point.”
Legault made his request in an official letter to Trudeau sent Wednesday afternoon, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
“We are very close to the breaking point due to the excessive number of asylum seekers arriving in Quebec month after month. The situation has become unsustainable,” Legault wrote.
He said that in 2022, Quebec took in more asylum seekers than the rest of the country combined.
The closure of the unofficial Roxham Road crossing point south of Montreal in 2023 “momentarily” slowed the flow, he said.
“However, the arrivals have continued to increase at airports. The number of people arriving on a visitor visa and applying for asylum is also increasing significantly.”
Nearly 60,000 new asylum seekers were registered in Quebec in the first 11 months of 2023, which has put “very significant pressure” on services, the premier writes.
“Asylum seekers have trouble finding a place to live, which contributes to accentuating the housing crisis,” the letter said. “Many end up in homeless shelters, which are overflowing.”
He said organizations that help asylum seekers can’t keep up with demand. Legault said the children of asylum seekers are also straining schools that already have a shortage of teachers and space.
The premier reminded Trudeau that asylum seekers who are waiting for work permits receive financial assistance from Quebec. Last October, some 43,200 asylum seekers received $33 million in aid.
Legault expressed particular concern over Mexican nationals, who he said represent a growing proportion of the asylum seekers coming to the province.
“The possibility of entering Canada from Mexico without a visa certainly explains part of the influx of asylum seekers,” he said.
“The airports, particularly in Toronto and Montreal, are becoming sieves and it is time to act,” he added.
Legault is formally asking the prime minister to tighten its policies around granting visas. He’s also seeking the “equitable” distribution of asylum seekers across Canada, possibly by busing them to other provinces.
He wants Ottawa to reimburse Quebec the $470 million it spent on taking in asylum seekers in 2021 and 2022, and to do the same for subsequent years.
“Quebec is no longer in a position to welcome a disproportionate share of the asylum seekers entering Canada,” he wrote in conclusion. “This is an urgent matter of the utmost importance.”
On Tuesday, Trudeau reiterated his government’s commitment to welcome 500,000 new permanent immigrants per year by 2025.
However, he told the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal that his government wanted greater control over temporary immigration, such as international students and temporary workers, who he said have a bigger impact on the housing crisis.
Trudeau invited higher education institutions and companies to find their own housing solutions for these temporary residents.
WATCH | RCMP ends permanent presence at Roxham Road:
Last building at Roxham Road unofficial border crossing torn downQuebec RCMP have torn down the last building at the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road. The number of asylum seekers intercepted at the crossing has dropped dramatically since it was shut down in March, but some advocates say Canada should be doing more to help end the global migrant crisis.
Dominic LeBlanc, the federal minister of public safety, said in a statement that the government has recognized “on more than one occasion that Quebec has done more than its share in welcoming and integrating people who seek refuge in Canada.”
LeBlanc said the federal government supported Quebec with $374 million between 2017 and 2020 to help provide temporary accommodation to asylum seekers. It is also providing more than $700 million annually in “reception and integration” payments to the province and $3.6 billion in social transfer payments.
“We are taking the most recent financial request from the Quebec government very seriously,” LeBlanc said.
Quebec’s Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette said in an interview with Radio-Canada on Thursday that the provincial government had stepped in to provide funding to community organizations who were struggling last year with an influx of asylum seekers.
But, now, the province was struggling with resources to continue welcoming asylum seekers, she said.
“We want to avoid getting to a tipping point so we want the number of asylum seekers to be distributed across Canada,” she said. “We don’t want Quebec to get a disproportionate number of asylum seekers like we did with Roxham Road.”
Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québecois, told reporters on Thursday morning that Legault was raising the immigration issue because it was politically convenient to do so.
“It’s too little too late,” said St-Pierre Plamondon.
St-Pierre Plamondon said Quebec needs to be able to control its own borders and set its own immigration policy.
“It’s a brilliant demonstration of why we need to become a country and why we need to decide for ourselves instead of begging Ottawa’s collaboration,” he said.
Frantz André, a Montreal-based advocate whose organization, the Action Committee for People Without Status, assists asylum seekers, said there has been an increase in people arriving and claiming asylum at the Montreal airport.
Many of them are from Mexico and don’t need a visa to travel to Canada. Others are from West Africa and travel to the airport with a visa before claiming asylum, André said.
It has placed a strain on organizations like André’s, which helps people find shelter and process their claims.
“We need resources — financial and human resources — and we need more communication, more interface with all levels (of government),” he said. “That’s what we need right now.”
With files from Radio-Canada and CBC’s Cathy Senay