Canada, known for setting out the welcome mat for refugees, has attracted hundreds of asylum-seekers over the past few months. These immigrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are entering illegally from the U.S., though the exact reason is unknown.
In January and February, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police caught 1,134 people entering Canada illegally, or away from designated checkpoints, amounting to almost half of the number for all of last year, the Associated Press reported. In 2016, the total number was 2,464.
Most of the people entering Canada were in the U.S. legally, judging from their documents, Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters, according to Reuters. It’s not clear if the election of President Donald Trump and his policies on immigrants and refugees were motivating factors for them to leave. Some of the immigrants had been planning their move since early 2016, which made it appear unrelated to the election, Goodale said.
But others did express hopes for a better life in Canada. “We didn’t see any future there (in the U.S.), so that’s why we came over,” Pakistani refugee Mohammed Ahmed told NPR.
Despite the warm reception from the prime minister, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released March 20 showed that 48 percent of Canadians thought those who crossed over illegally should be deported, while 36 percent said they should be allowed to stay. Concerns over safety were the predominant reason.
Canada, which has a population of 35 million, has set a target of admitting 300,000 immigrants in 2017, including 25,000 refugees. By comparison, the Trump administration has indicated in executive orders that it intends to bring 50,000 refugees into the U.S., a drop from 85,000 during the previous year. And in 2015, about 1.38 million foreign-born people moved to the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Back in Canada, when people enter illegally, they are detained and questioned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Once they are deemed to not pose a national security risk, they are sent to the Canada Border Services Agency to be screened with other asylum-seekers.
There’s no simple explanation for the influx of asylum-seekers. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told CTV during a recent visit to Ottawa that he has discussed the recent surge in asylum-seekers crossing into Canada with his Canadian counterparts, and they were just as puzzled.
“Those that have been in the business – your ministers – longer than I have are equally as perplexed as to why people who, generally, as a group, have come to the United States legally … enter Canada between points of entry,” he said.