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A family of asylum seekers is met by RCMP officers after crossing the border into Canada at Roxham Road, on Feb. 9.Ryan Remiorz

François Legault is the Premier of Quebec.

Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited all those fleeing persecution, terror and war on Earth to come to Canada in January, 2017, the number of asylum seekers entering Canada has exploded.

It was generous on the part of Mr. Trudeau, and in Canada as in Quebec, we have reason to be proud of our tradition of welcoming refugees. We did it for the Vietnamese boat people at the time, for the Haitians who were fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship, the Chileans who were fleeing the Pinochet regime and, more recently, for Afghans, Syrians and now Ukrainians.

However, Mr. Trudeau’s good intentions turned into a real problem for Quebec and for Canada. The figures show that during the year 2022, the number of arrivals of asylum seekers in Quebec has exploded.

Indeed, the number of irregular entries was more than 39,000 last year (mainly via Roxham Road). This is without counting the approximately 20,000 regular arrivals at various points of arrival, which means that Quebec has taken on a completely disproportionate share of asylum seekers in Canada.

Since the fall of 2022, we have seen the rate of arrivals increasing and this influx cannot continue. Quebec’s capacity to take care of the asylum seekers has now been largely exceeded.

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This situation even raises several humanitarian considerations, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to receive asylum seekers with dignity. The new arrivals struggle to find adequate housing and are more likely to find themselves in a situation of homelessness.

Also, the community organizations that provide them with direct support are at their wits’ end, and Quebec’s public services also face increased, unprecedented pressures, particularly in regards to health, education and social assistance.

This situation comes at a time when, like everywhere in Canada, our public services are already strained. This additional pressure has become unsustainable and cannot continue any longer.

It’s not mainly a question of money. The people working to receive and care for asylum seekers are limited. The number of new classes we can add to accommodate children, many of whom are distressed or traumatized, is limited, and that’s not to mention the shortage of teachers.

Similarly, there is the scarcity of housing, which cannot be built in such a short time. As elsewhere in Canada, the health care system is already fragile. It is therefore not a question of if we want to welcome asylum seekers, but if we have the ability to do so humanely.

People must be able to find housing, children must be able to attend school and the sick must be able to receive treatment.

We have therefore asked the federal government to settle new asylum seekers in other provinces that are capable of supporting them with dignity.

It is essential that this new approach is maintained over time and that asylum seekers who enter irregularly are all redirected to other provinces in the coming months, while Quebec catches its breath.

The federal government also has a responsibility to issue work permits to asylum seekers quickly. Currently, some have to wait two years before being able to work, which strongly affects their ability to live with dignity and contribute to their host society.

Similarly, the processing times for refugee status applications are very long – too long. The wave of migration is global, and the federal government will have to adjust sooner or later. In the meantime, Mr. Trudeau’s government should send the message loud and clear: would-be migrants shouldn’t come via Roxham Road anymore.

The basic problem is the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which made it possible to open this breach in the border. Mr. Trudeau’s government must conclude a new version of this agreement as soon as possible that applies to all points of entry into Canada, whether regular or irregular.

This is not just one issue among others. We are talking here about making sure Canada’s territorial borders are enforced and that should be one of the first responsibilities of the Canadian Prime Minister. I have therefore asked Mr. Trudeau to make this a priority topic during his upcoming meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Roxham Road will have to be closed one day or another, whether we like it or not. The sooner the better.

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