Like thousands of others who have applied for asylum in Canada in recent years, Apollinaire Nduwimana entered the country at Roxham Road, an unofficial border between New York and Quebec.
But in this year of the coronavirus, the Burundian man was barred from making a claim. Instead, Canadian border guards turned him back to the United States, where he was arrested and detained with a final order of removal.
When the United States and Canada agreed in March to close their borders to asylum seekers at illegal entry points, Canadian officials said they had received reassurance from their counterparts. in the United States that asylum seekers who return will not be deported.
Now at least one person has been deported. At least eight other people, including Nduwimana, are being held at a federal detention facility in Batavia, N.Y., many with final deportation orders. One of them, a Ghanaian man, was pulled off the plane at the last minute this month, avoiding deportation only after his attorney obtained an order to suspend deportation.
Ottawa is seemingly interfering.
Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino this month exempted five of those asylum seekers from the border restrictions, according to Kate Webster, their Toronto-based lawyer. Another application is pending. That means they will be allowed to enter Canada if the United States releases them.
“While we absolutely welcome this decision and are very happy about it, we’re mindful that this is only a small piece of the puzzle and that the exemption on its own is not a complete solution,” Webster said.
Exemptions can be issued in “exceptional” situations where the foreign minister, immigration or public safety considers an individual’s presence in Canada to be in “national interest”. They were granted to foreign hockey players this year so that the NHL could complete their season.
Proponents fear that known cases are only partial – others with whom Canada is turned at risk of being deported by the United States to countries where they have faced harm or already have.
Canadian officials declined to comment on the cases or exemptions, citing the privacy rules. A Mendicino spokesman said the immigration department had “in some exceptional circumstances” granted such immunities to asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States.
During the pandemic, the Trump administration used emergency powers to achieve the long-term goal of limiting asylum applications, effectively closing the United States to asylum seekers.
Proponents of condemnation fear the United States will expel those returned, putting both countries at risk of violating the treaty pledges on the law of no return – sending migrants back to countries where they may face repression.
Amid the outcry, Canadian officials said they were “urgently” to discuss the matter with their US counterparts.
“We are very aware of the issue of the return law,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in March. “It is important for Canada to have guarantees that it will not happen to people who have returned to the United States.”
Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair said Canada was “in constant discussion” with the United States on border issues and that both countries have committed not to return. Spokesman Mary-Liz Powersaid said Canada has received reassurance that most denied asylum seekers will be able to return to the United States and issue their asylum claims once the restrictions are lifted. revoke.
“Irregular” asylum seekers – those passing through illegal entry points, such as Roxham Road – have entered Canada in an increasing number since President Trump took office in 2017. Previous when the border closed in March, they were allowed to apply for asylum and stay in the country until their case is decided. Permitted places of entry currently do not have this option for asylum seekers.
More than 58,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada under such routes since 2017. Nearly 15,000 of their requests have been accepted, about 12,000 rejected, and nearly 30,000 pending.
Since the border was closed due to the pandemic, Canada has directed 226 of them to return to the United States, according to Canadian Border Services Agency spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy.
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