Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the Nigerian government has pledged to discourage its citizens from claiming asylum in Canada by crossing between ports of entry along the U.S. border.
Mr. Hussen travelled to Nigeria this week as a part of a federal government effort to contain the surge of asylum seekers – most of whom are Nigerian – at the Canada-U.S. border. He said Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and other senior government officials committed to deter Nigerians from using the U.S. as a transit point to cross into Canada and claim asylum.
“They will take that opportunity onward to use that messaging from us to remind people that crossing the border irregularly is not a free ticket to Canada and that there’s consequences,” Mr. Hussen told reporters after his three-day trip to the West African country.
The minister also spoke with a number of Nigerian media outlets, including radio stations, to dispel the “myths” about Canada’s asylum system.
The RCMP intercepted more than 7,600 asylum seekers along the entire Canada-U.S. border from January to April this year – nearly three times as many as the same period in 2017; the majority arrived through Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., Mr. Hussen said Nigerians have made up more than half of the asylum seekers this year, adding that 75 per cent of them were carrying valid U.S. visas.
Mr. Hussen said there has been a 10-per-cent increase in U.S. visa refusals for Nigerians since Canadian officials raised concerns about the surge in asylum seekers with their American counterparts earlier this year. He said he is hopeful his visit to Nigeria will “bear fruit,” eventually resulting in a decrease in the number of Nigerian asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
Mr. Hussen said he also asked for the Nigerian government’s help in providing travel documents to asylum seekers who are denied refugee status in Canada and ordered to go back to Nigeria.
“It’s extremely important to get that co-operation from Nigerian government officials to issue travel documents,” Mr. Hussen said.
“Sometimes that’s difficult. There’s delays in doing that.”
In his messaging on asylum seekers, Mr. Hussen was careful not to criticize Nigerians who travel to Canada legally, including students, tourists and temporary visitors.
“The vast majority of Nigerian travellers to Canada arrive through regular means and we really value their contributions to Canadian society.”
Meanwhile, asylum seekers continue to cross into Canada between official ports of entry along the U.S. border every day. Mr. Hussen’s office said an average of 83 people crossed into Lacolle per day in April, adding that, anecdotally, the number has gone down slightly in the first weeks of May. Mr. Hussen’s spokesperson Mathieu Genest said it’s hard to tell why the numbers have dropped and whether it’s indicative of a longer trend.
Mr. Hussen said an announcement on an asylum seeker “triage system” will be made in the coming weeks. Government officials have been in discussions with their provincial counterparts about creating a triage area at or near the border in Quebec that would transfer some asylum seekers to other provinces. The proposal is meant to relieve pressure on Quebec and cities that have dealt with a surge in asylum seekers, such as Montreal and Toronto.