Canada is a magnet for Haitians, Venezuelans and Colombians at the end of their exile

Published Friday, 10 March 2023 at 09:46

Although it’s only a small section of snowy road, it’s the end of a long journey in exile. Some people carry heavy suitcases while others carry only small plastic bags, vestiges from their past lives.

In a rush to finish, Haitians and Venezuelans, Colombians, and Turks rush down from their cars, heads bowed to cross the last border of the journey: that which separates Canada and the United States on the road between New York City and Montreal.

Quebec police officers tell migrants disembarking in groups throughout the day that “Stop, crossing here illegally, if it is done, you will be arrested.”

The migrants arrived without coats, or with only sneakers on their feet. They waited despite the March snowfall. The youngest are carried by mothers, the stuffed animals protrude out of bags, and strollers slide on the snow with difficulty.

Only children smile, often astonished by the snowflakes they see for the first-time.

Makenzy Dorgeville fled violence in Haiti and now says he is “very happy to be here” after years of traveling. He lists the ten countries that he has visited since Brazil, which he sums up by saying that he is happy to be here.

The 40-year old man with frail shoulders, who was also a refugee, chose the traditional route. He traveled all the way back to Central America, then Mexico, to reach the United States. He knows that Canada will not deport Haitians if his asylum application for asylum is denied.

Marcelo, a Haitian man with a weathered appearance, said he had “suffered quite a lot” in his country because of gang violence. Canada is the promise of a new beginning.

NGOs hand out coats and hats to border crossings before they even cross it. Frances Ravensbergen is a Bridges Not Borders volunteer. She says, “We want people know that there are people who support their quest for safety.”

Concretely, migrants are checked by the police and then taken to the nearest border post to file an asylum application. Between 50 and 60% of applications are approved.

– Growing insecurity

After a few weeks, they are granted a work permit. The children then go to school. During the processing of their applications, they receive health care and are accommodated in hotels or centers.

The reopening post-pandemic border has seen migration flows increase around the world. They are fueled by economic misery, growing insecurity, and increasing poverty in many countries.

Roxham Road is a well-known crossing point. Social media are full of videos explaining how to get there and how much it costs to cross from Plattsburgh (the last bus station) to the border…

According to Canadian immigration, this route was used by nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants in 2022. This is twice the number of people who crossed it in 2017. The crossings continue even when winter is over. In January alone, more than 5,000 people crossed.

This is a new form of irregular immigration to Canada. Canada is difficult to reach due to its geographical location. Canada has a strict visa policy.

“The speed of the system is one of the main reasons people travel.” On the American side, it can take five-six years or more, compared to about two years in Canada,” says Stéphanie Valois, president of the Association québécoise des avocats en droit de l’immigration.

Faced with recent calls for Roxham Road to be closed, she reminds us all that “people will do whatever it takes to be safe” and that Canada as a large, rich country has a responsibility. “Asylum seekers are crossing into Darien and it’s not the border that will stop,” she said.

This jungle is between Panama and Colombia. “It’s a very difficult passage physical with mountains, lots mud …”

“People who have been there are very distinguished. My clients tell me horror tales, women have been raped, and men beaten, and many die on that road,” relates the lawyer, with her long grey hair and round glasses, who has dedicated her whole life to protecting asylum seekers.

– “If you fall, you die” –

This section of the journey is still a traumatizing experience for Eli (first name changed), a Haitian who arrived recently and whom AFP had met in Montreal.

The young woman, with her long braids, large earrings and large creole earrings, confesses that the jungle is the worst. She rarely loses her smile. “I’ve seen a lot more dead people on this road.” “One night, we had no choice but to sleep next to dead bodies,” said the 29-yearold woman who was crossing the road with her 2-year-old daughter.

The narrow road, the cliffs and the wildlife…

Eli still has nightmares about the passage to America and particularly to the detention facilities.

“It’s such humiliation!” They don’t even permit us to wash ourselves or brush our teeth,” she explained, referring to “inhumane treatment”.

During the U.S. president’s visit in Ottawa on March 23-24, the topic of the influx, especially via Roxham Road is expected to be high on Joe Biden’s agenda as well as Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Prime Minister.

Canada is not used to this type rhetoric and anti-migrant rhetoric is on the rise. More voices are calling for the renegotiation the treaty that, like the Dublin agreement in Europe stipulates that migrants must apply to asylum in the first country that they arrive in.

Carolina, who fled Colombia with her daughter in 2012, said that the situation was still very different from America. She also spoke out against American racism. The young mother from Colombia is happy to “be free to walk on the streets without fear.”

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