A five-mile stretch of dirt road linking New York state to the Canadian province of Quebec is expected to be a focal point of Joe Biden’s first official visit to Canada later this week, as Justin Trudeau seeks to slow a surge in asylum claims amid criticism that his government is failing refugees.
Last year nearly 40,000 people entered Canada at Roxham Road, an informal crossing in the forests of upstate New York that has become a political flashpoint in recent years.
The surge, prompted by a mix of Canadian bureaucratic delays and bilateral agreements with the United States, has caught the governing Liberals flat-footed – and left a majority of claimants without proper government documentation as they wait for their cases to work through the system. Figures from the federal government showed the vast majority of arrivals via Roxham have yet to be issued work permits.
“Asylum seekers on our borders is not something that Canada typically deals with,” said Abdulla Daoud, executive director of the Refugee Centre in Montreal. “This is in many ways a new issue. And while there’s been an uptick, there’s no denying that, we’ve seen that Canada’s immigration infrastructure can handle an increase in population – but the asylum system wasn’t ever built to accommodate this sort of issue.”
Most of the asylum seekers are fleeing conflict, poverty and political repression in Latin America, but others have arrived from as far as Afghanistan, Yemen and Turkey.
In February, Quebec’s premier, François Legault, demanded that Trudeau’s government resettle refugee claimants in other provinces amid concerns that Quebec’s “capacity to take care of the asylum seekers” had been exceeded. The Conservative party leader, Pierre Poilievre, has also called on the prime minister to close the Roxham Road crossing.