Refugee advocates say they will be watching to see if Washington’s move to send asylum seekers to other countries will affect the number of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is cracking down on asylum seekers at its southern border, introducing a new regulation on Monday that would allow the United States to send them to countries that have agreed to accept them.
The United States has a bilateral agreement with Canada called the Safe Third Country Agreement, and Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have signed similar asylum pacts with the United States in recent months, but they have not yet been finalized.
A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman said the asylum agreement with Guatemala would be implemented soon. The new regulation would allow similar agreements with other countries.
U.S. officials have said asylum seekers should seek protection in the first country they reach that is safe, meaning where they are not likely to be persecuted, because many cross several borders on their way to the United States. However, the new regulation states that asylum seekers may be sent to countries that have signed agreements – even if they did not first travel through those countries.
Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve called the agreements “sinister,” but said it’s too soon to say how it might affect Canada’s border.
“This is just one more staggering indication of how desperately unsafe the United States is in so many ways for asylum seekers, and therefore how disgraceful it is that Canada continues to defend the notion that we think the United States is safe and that the agreement should be maintained,” Mr. Neve said.
The Safe Third Country Agreement requires asylum seekers to make their refugee claims in the first safe country in which they arrive – meaning those who come into Canada at an official land-border crossing are sent back to the United States. The agreement does not cover those who enter at unofficial crossings.
The Canadian government wants to change the agreement so that most people who come from the United States at any point along the border can be deported immediately.
More than 52,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada through unofficial crossings since 2017 – but the numbers have dwindled significantly, with about 4,000 people crossing between April and June.
Rémi Larivière, a spokesman with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said the government monitors conditions and developments in other countries to shape its policies, but will not speculate on future trends.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said in a statement on Tuesday that it has “serious concerns” about the U.S. policy, and that it had no role in negotiating any of the bilateral agreements between the United States and the Central American countries.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said many asylum seekers reach Canada through the United States, and so the agreements could mean fewer people will be able to get here.
It also underscores, Ms. Dench said, how “improper” it is for Canada to designate the United States as safe.
Refugee lawyer Lorne Waldman said he doesn’t think the change will have a significant impact on the flow from the United States to Canada.
“A lot of asylum seekers coming from the U.S. into Canada are crossing irregularly, but they’re people who either came to the U.S. using the U.S. as an entry point to get into Canada … or a lot of them are people who have been in the U.S. for a long time and are facing deportation."
With reports from Reuters.