Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen travels to Nigeria this month as part of a federal effort to contain a renewed flow of asylum claimants walking into Canada from the United States through irregular border crossings.
The trip comes as the federal government faces pressure to show it is controlling the influx of people entering the country to ask for protection. The RCMP intercepted more than 5,000 claimants at the irregular border crossings in the first three months of the year and another 2,500 in April alone − triple the number of April, 2017.
While the majority of last year’s arrivals came from Haiti, federal officials on Monday said most claimants this year are Nigerian nationals travelling on valid U.S. visas, effectively using the United States as a transit point.
Mr. Hussen will travel to Nigeria to speak to both American and senior Nigerian authorities; Canadian immigration officials are already working with U.S. visa officers in the West African country.
“We value our relationship with Nigeria but this is a real issue and they need to help us address the issue of Nigerian nationals abusing the visa system to come to Canada and claiming asylum,” Mr. Hussen told reporters.
He said Canada is also raising its concerns with the American government, which has already tightened its visa rules for Nigerians. American authorities are monitoring would-be claimants with valid visas at American airports, before they set foot in Canada.
Those entering the country cross at a makeshift passageway on Roxham Road in Quebec, about an hour’s drive south of Montreal.
Mr. Hussen was joined by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale at a news conference in Montreal aimed at demonstrating that the federal government has a handle on the migrant issue, which is straining resources in Quebec and raising public questions about the country’s refugee system.
The ministers repeated the message that those making the irregular crossings are not taking a shortcut to gaining a foothold in Canada. More than nine in 10 people who cross irregularly into the country don’t meet the criteria for refugee status and will have to leave, they said.
“Coming across the border in a way that seeks to circumvent our procedures is no free ticket to Canada,” Mr. Goodale said.
Mr. Hussen confirmed Ottawa is reviewing the Safe Third Country Agreement but said there are no formal talks underway with the United States about changing it. The agreement requires Canada and the United States to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official ports of entry along the border because both countries are considered safe for refugees.
“Just like any agreement that is 14 years old, it’s always wise and prudent to refresh [it],” Mr. Hussen said.
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel urged the government to put “global asylum claim reform” on the agenda for the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Charlevoix, Que., next month. Canada holds the G7 presidency for 2018, meaning it sets the agenda and hosts all meetings for the group, which is comprised of seven of the world’s advanced economies.
“Why has [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau not raised global asylum claim reform – arguably one of the most pressing issues of global concern – with his G7 presidency?”
Ms. Rempel said the government needs to take steps to address “asylum claim shopping,” which she described as the act of claiming asylum in a second G7 country after an individual has already lived in another G7 one.
With the number of asylum claimants expected to increase over the summer and the great majority arriving in Quebec, the federal government is putting up shelters for 500 beds near the town of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle to temporarily house applicants while their cases are being processing.