Montreal To House Asylum-Seekers In Olympic Stadium

A security guard stands outside Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Wednesday.

Montreal’s iconic Olympic Stadium will be the first place some newcomers to Canada call home, with the venue starting to be used as a shelter for asylum seekers.

The first groups were bused to the stadium on Wednesday as Quebec continues to manage a recent influx of people entering the province from the United States.

Volunteers from the Quebec Red Cross helped set up the cavernous facility for a temporary stay with cots and food in the rotunda.

According to recent federal government data, preliminary figures for June suggested a “pronounced shift” in the number of people arriving in Canada at the Quebec-U.S. border.

It’s certain we won’t be there long term.Francine Dupuis

Francine Dupuis, who oversees a Quebec government-funded program that helps seekers get on their feet, told Radio-Canada the numbers are not what they’re used to handling.

Dupuis said the stadium is just one of several sites it has considered, although “it’s certain we won’t be there long term.”

Richard Goldman of the Committee to Aid Refugees said it is too early to say if the spike in the number of asylum seekers will be sustained, but acknowledged that all services are feeling the crunch.

Asylum seekers, claiming to be from Yemen, are arrested by RCMP officers after crossing the border from New York into Canada on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 in Hemmingford, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

“Definitely, everything is overloaded and that’s why the Olympic Stadium is being put into service,” said Goldman. “There’s a great demand for all services.”

Part of the problem is that many of those entering in Quebec have no intention of staying here and end up leaving for other cities, notably Toronto.

Half plan to leave Quebec

Goldman estimates that one-half of the people entering Quebec have plans to move elsewhere.

“In other words, this overload problem is due to the fact people are here temporarily and are planning to leave,” he said.

The influx has meant that admissibility hearings, where seekers at the border were getting initial vetting and a hearing date in the city of their choice, are no longer completed in 72 hours as was once the case.

A group of refugee claimants, from Eritrea, cross the border from New York into Canada, Thursday, March 2, 2017 in Hemmingford, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Instead, those people are sent to Montreal to have an appointment that could come one or two months later, Goldman said.

Haitians could be kicked out of U.S.

Many of those arriving Wednesday appeared to be of Haitian descent.

In the United States, the Trump administration is weighing ending a program that granted Haitians a so-called “temporary protected status” following the massive earthquake that struck in 2010.

If the program isn’t extended, as many as 60,000 Haitians could be sent back to their homeland.

Goldman said he has no idea if the fear is founded, but it appears to be a deciding factor for those choosing to flee.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, an outspoken critic of the U.S. administration’s immigration policies, went on Twitter to welcome Haitian arrivals and tell them they can count on the city.

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Author: Sidhartha Banerjee / Canadian Press