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Asylum seekers board a bus after crossing into Canada from the U.S. in Champlain, N.Y., on Feb. 28.CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

French-speaking asylum seekers say they were transported out of Quebec against their will and are now unable to access services in a language they comprehend.

Guirlin William arrived in Canada on Feb. 11 via Roxham Road, the irregular border crossing south of Montreal, with his wife, Diliane Dasias, and their 4-year-old son. It was, they thought, the end of a long, perilous journey through the Americas after leaving Haiti and crossing several countries.

The couple speaks French and wanted to stay in Montreal, but they were put on a bus to Niagara Falls, Ont., Mr. William said. “I was very surprised because I don’t speak English,” he said in French during an interview.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been sent to Niagara Falls by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada since last June, when the federal government began transferring asylum seekers to Ontario from Quebec. IRCC is now working with other provinces and municipalities to identify destinations that have the capacity to accommodate them, spokesperson Michelle Carbert said.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, she said department staff “review a consent document with the claimants … and the claimant acknowledges that by boarding the bus they are voluntarily accepting to be transferred outside of Quebec in order to stay in IRCC temporary accommodations.”

Ms. Dasias, who is nearly seven months pregnant, needs medical attention but has not been able to find a French-speaking physician or have access to a translator during medical appointments, according to her husband. “They ask us questions in English, but we don’t know what to answer them,” Mr. William said.

The Haitian family, temporarily housed in a Niagara Falls hotel, is planning to take a bus back to Montreal as soon as they can save enough money from Ontario social assistance to buy tickets and find a place to stay. Mr. William said there are other French-speaking asylum seekers at their hotel who plan to do the same.

“These are people who came here thinking they had found the ideal place to live and then we took them over there. No, it’s not acceptable,” said Frantz André, spokesperson for the Non-status Action Committee, a Montreal-based migrants rights advocacy group. “If [Quebec Premier François Legault] wants to preserve the French language, why not keep people who speak very good French instead of sending them where they are once again undergoing stress they don’t need?” he said in an interview.

Last month, Mr. Legault wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the thousands of arrivals coming through Roxham Road would contribute to “the decline of French in Montreal” because many of them don’t speak the language. He also said the province’s social services could not handle any more asylum seekers and asked for the federal government to “take all necessary means to distribute asylum seekers … to other provinces, regardless of the applicant’s profile.”

Mr. Legault and his government have been adamant that the protection of the French language is one of their main concerns and that, because of this, the province cannot welcome more immigrants.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, the provincial Ministry of Immigration, Francisation and Integration reiterated Mr. Legault’s request for all asylum seekers arriving by Roxham Road to be sent to other provinces. “The impact of the massive arrivals … is increasingly being felt on public services and access to housing,” spokesperson Arianne Méthot wrote, without answering questions related to language. She underscored that the transfer of asylum seekers to other provinces from Quebec is the responsibility of the federal government.

Ms. Carbert said Quebec “has reached a point where they are no longer in a position to accept any more claimants” arriving at unofficial border crossings. She said transfers to other provinces are not tracked by language of preference and could not give statistics on the matter.

Nearly 40,000 asylum seekers were apprehended entering Canada at irregular ports of entry in 2022, with only 369 of them in provinces other than Quebec. It is a trend that has shown little sign of slowing, with almost 5,000 people apprehended in January, 2023, alone – 4,875 of them in Quebec. Most of them came through Roxham Road, which links Champlain, N.Y., and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, asylum seekers must file their claims in whichever country they arrive in first, meaning they will be turned back if they attempt to get into Canada at official border crossings. Nearly 20,000 asylum seekers made claims in Quebec at official points of entry in 2022.