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A group of asylum seekers pass a Canadian army vehicle as they walk down the street while escorted from their tent encampment to be processed at Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Que., on Aug. 11, 2017.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

The federal government will commit almost $1.2-billion over five years to address the challenges posed by tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have entered Canada through unauthorized areas along the U.S. border.

The new money was announced in Tuesday’s budget and will be dispersed among eight federal departments and agencies to improve border security and protect Canada’s immigration system from those who try to exploit it. More than 40,000 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada – between official border crossings – since U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown began two years ago, bogging down the refugee protection system.

“To ensure that our asylum system is fair and effective – supporting Canada’s reputation as a country that is welcoming as well as governed by the rule of law – we will invest in a comprehensive border enforcement strategy, to better detect and intercept people who cross into Canada irregularly and those that attempt to exploit our immigration system,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said during his budget speech in the House of Commons.

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The strategy will provide the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) with $382-million and the RCMP with $80-million over five years. Canada’s border agents and the RCMP have been on the front lines of a surge in asylum seekers in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., where most of the unauthorized crossings have occurred.

The federal budget includes new spending in a range of areas including support for first-time homebuyers, ensuring seniors are enrolled in CPP and the further advancement of reconciliation.

The asylum seekers have exposed a loophole in a Canada-U.S. border agreement. The Safe Third Country Agreement permits Canada and the United States to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at authorized entry points along the border, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. But since the agreement applies only to those who arrive at official points of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being immediately turned away by crossing between border posts, requiring Canada to process most of their claims.

The Immigration Department will also receive $452-million over five years as part of the border strategy, while the Immigration and Refugee Board – the tribunal that oversees Canada’s refugee protection system – will get $208-million over the next two years.

Although the budget did not specify exactly how this money would be spent, it said the government will dedicate additional resources to accelerate the processing of asylum claims and deportation of rejected claimants. The proposals are meant to ensure Canada’s asylum system is used as intended.

“Securing the integrity of Canada’s borders and of our asylum system is essential to making sure we continue to benefit from a world-class immigration system,” the budget plan read.

On the legislative front, the budget proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to “better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration.” The budget document was not specific about what the changes would entail.

It also proposed the creation of three new Federal Court judicial positions, which will help ensure timely processing of asylum claimants seeking judicial review of their cases.

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Separate from the border strategy, the budgeted allocated $283-million over the next two years for the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides refugees with access to temporary health coverage. The program faced significant cuts under the previous, Conservative government and was fully restored under the Liberals; it eases health-care costs for provinces and territories.

The budget will also set aside $597-million over the next two years for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) to provide better service for airport travellers. The government also intends to table legislation that will fund an effort to make CATSA into an independent, not-for-profit entity.

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