On this blog, we used to post information about our visits to the border at Roxham Road, USA side.
Since the closure of Roxham Road on Friday 24 March 2023, we're attempting to keep a log of the info we have about refugees who have been returned to the US.
Sur ce blogue, nous avons affiché des informations sur nos visites à la frontière, Roxham Road, États Unis. Depuis la fermeture de Roxham Road le vendredi 24 mars 2023, nous essayons de tenir un répertoire des informations que nous avons cueillies sur les réfugiés qui ont été renvoyés aux États-Unis.
Bridges Not Borders, a grassroots group in Hemmingford, Quebec, has been supporting refugees crossing at Roxham since 2017. We are deeply shocked by the abrupt and callous enforcement of the new protocol to Safe Third Country Agreement that extends it across the entire border and exposes asylum seekers to grave risks. Put into effect at midnight on March 24, with 8 hours’ notice, there was no time to inform people already en route to seek safety in Canada. Some had traveled weeks and months only to find they had arrived too late and could no longer cross. Their despair is heartbreaking.
Because of Canada’s geographic isolation and restrictive visa requirements, most refugees can only arrive here through the land border. Roxham Road was a safe place for them to do so, but this is now blocked. Without other options, some people will try to cross on their own, or rely on traffickers waiting to exploit this situation. Some will die from hypothermia, drown or lose digits to frostbite. 6 people lost their lives at the Canadian border over the last year, and this figure is bound to go up. And worse, having managed to cross clandestinely, refugees must also evade detection for 14 days before being able to claim asylum, a punitive measure that will put them at even greater risk.
When people come to our land border and fail to meet STCA criteria, they can never again seek asylum in Canada. They are returned to US authorities. Yet, in 2007 and 2020 the Canadian federal court found that the US is not a safe country for asylum seekers. Thousands are held in immigration detention, often in inhuman conditions that ‘shock the conscience’ according to Federal Court Justice McDonald in her 2020 judgment. Most do not have access to legal counsel, making it very difficult to pursue an asylum claim. Some refugees will be deported to their homelands where their lives are in danger, the most serious breach of refugee law. If they have been in the US for more than a year they can no longer apply for asylum, and they may find themselves in limbo, without status, perhaps homeless, struggling to survive and unable to return home.
Roxham Road existed because STCA rules only applied at official Ports of Entry. Had the STCA been abolished, refugee claimants could have crossed safely and been received across the country without straining the resources of just one province, a solution long favored by hundreds of Canadian organizations, churches and lawyers.
Ironically, as the Roxham ‘crisis’ evolved, the government worked with the provinces to settle over 190,000 Ukrainians in one year, and 426,000 more have so far been accepted. Yet only 40,000 asylum seekers crossed at Roxham in 2022, people fleeing from long standing armed conflicts, persecution, gang violence and even societal collapse. While we welcome the Ukrainian program, where are the special visas for others in the same boat, like the people from Yemen who are in the 9th year of a devastating war with widespread death, famine and displacement? We cannot but wonder about the racism implicit in such unequal treatment.
The new Protocol was enacted without any democratic consultation, nor did the government wait for the imminent Supreme Court Judgment that will rule on whether the STCA is in fact valid. It was signed a year ago, kept in secret and proclaimed with fanfare. Yet it imitates the failed ‘solutions’ of other nations who try to seal borders. We receive only a tiny proportion of the world’s forcibly displaced people, now at 103 million. Most of these are found in poor countries with very few resources compared to ours. We missed the opportunity to respond creatively to this global crisis and to develop solutions that respect our obligations under the Refugee Convention. Instead, we are building a ‘fortress Canada’ on a foundation of human tragedy.
30 March 2023
Bridges not Borders
Here's a report on what a Bridges Not Borders volunteer saw at the Plattsburgh bus station on Thursday, March 30. She spent 4 hours at the bus station from 3 pm onwards. Plus an update for March 31 and April 1st from an American volunteers.
Just as I arrived, the 3 pm bus had arrived from New York City and a family of about 5 people, who looked South Asian, was heading for a taxi. I tried to speak with them but they did not want to. I asked the driver if he knew whether they met an exception to the Safe Third Country Agreement, and he said he did not know. Later on his return to the Bus station, the taxi driver confirmed that the father of the family had siblings in Canada.
In the bus station (actually a convenience store with a restaurant, called the Mountain Mart), I found about 20 people. More arrived later. They had returned from Lacolle after being excluded from Canada and were carrying two brown envelopes with their exclusion papers, record of interview etc. Initially there were 9-10 Kurdish men from Turkey, 5 Venezuelans (2 women and 3 men, including a 20 year-old woman who is 8 months pregnant), 3 adult Colombians including a woman with two small children, 2 Afghan men, an Uzbek man and 1 man from the DRC. I believe that others who showed up later were both Kurdish and Afghan. Many people had no money at all (or had spent their last money on return bus tickets) and I bought sandwiches and drinks for most of them.
Communication was a challenge but one Kurdish man and 2 Afghans spoke reasonable English. A journalist from a Quebec media outlet spoke good Spanish and helped a lot. I was able to speak in French with the man from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
To my understanding none of the asylum seekers understood the ramifications of their exclusion. I had to explain that it meant they can never apply again for asylum in Canada unless they can appeal. I asked everyone if they had family members in Canada. Some had cousins, which is of no help for meeting an STCA exclusion. The man from DRC sent out texts to his extended family scattered in many countries to see if he could identify a qualifying family member in Canada.
The two Afghan men had been traveling for a year via Brazil, having left Afghanistan last March. They had spent their last money on the taxi back from Lacolle after their exclusion. We paid their tickets to take them to Boston from where they would travel onward to Maine (someone would pay for that part of the journey). They will hopefully be provided with shelter by a Maine charity. One Afghan man had worked with the US military and had saved the life of an American soldier severely wounded by a bomb ( I saw the photos). CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) removed two USB keys from the other Afghan man when they arrived at Lacolle. On leaving he was told that the USB keys were in his luggage. They were not. I called CBSA on Friday and was told they could not be located. They contained all his important life information: ID documents, educational credentials, work experience. He is very upset and wonders how he can ever manage to survive in the US. CBSA lost his precious information and there is no accountability.
The Kurdish men were able to buy tickets to return to NYC and Jersey City where most of them were going to try to find emergency shelter. I listened for a long time to the Kurdish man who spoke English - surrounded by the other very friendly Kurds who tried to understand our conversation - as he communicated the sense of despair that Kurdish people in exile feel about their situation. It was so hectic, I did not ask people the questions I wished I had asked about their journeys and interviews at Lacolle. I did take photos of some CBSA documents.
Four Venezuelans (including the 8 month pregnant young woman) had no money left and needed shelter, food and bus tickets. I was able to find an emergency shelter number in Plattsburgh. When the Venezuelan woman called the number, she could not communicate in Spanish with them so I spoke with them. We took them to a nearby hotel for the night. They were told to go to the social services (DSS) office the next morning to ask for bus tickets to go to New York city. The next morning they texted to ask for taxi money to go to the DSS office. A nice taxi driver we know took them for free. After a few hours they were given bus tickets, food vouchers and were brought back to the Plattsburgh bus station to travel onwards to NYC. After a long trip they have told me they are at a NYC shelter but as of mid afternoon had eaten nothing all day (Saturday).
UPDATES - Friday March 31 and Saturday April 1 2023
An American volunteer has been at the bus station on Friday and Saturday and reported that people continue to be returned to the US after exclusion under the STCA.
Friday March 31: during a brief visit she met with about 10 people and assumed more would arrive. They were Venezuelan, Colombian and Turkish Kurds.
Saturday April 1: A 2 hour visit.
The volunteer met a Ugandan family of 5 on their way to Lacolle. The mother says she has a close relative in Canada (hopefully they were accepted). About 8 people got off the bus from the border to Plattsburgh (it seems that refugees who have been sent back to the US by Lacolle CBSA are now taking the Montreal to Plattsburgh bus after being refused entry). Most of these 8 then got on a bus to NYC: Venezuelans and a Nigerian mother with three young children. A Somali man returned from Lacolle in a taxi and was intending to go to Syracuse.
She also visited with a group of 6 Colombians who had been put up in the local hotel by social services. They had hoped to be included in the 15,000 'program' (accepting people from Central and South America in Canada), but they realized this was not going to happen.
On Friday March 24th, with only a few hours between the announcement of the new protocol during the day, and the closure of Roxham Road at midnight that same day, refugees were scrambling to make it to the border in time. According to our contacts in the US, they were pleading with taxi drivers at Plattsburgh bus station to take them to Roxham Road before it closed. As midnight approached, some who had not crossed yet left their suitcases behind just so they could read Canadian soil before it was too late.
On Saturday March 25th, we were at the Canadian side of Roxham Road during the time that taxis would arrive taking people from the 3pm bus arrival at Plattsburgh. During our time there, 7 people arrived.
On Sunday March 26th, during the same time period, 20 people arrived, some hugging the taxi driver, thanking him for having brought them. Only 'unofficial' taxis were still driving people to Roxham Road, as the registered taxi drivers knew the border was now closed to all but those meeting the exceptions to the STCA (for more info about the STCA exceptions, go HERE). The people who arrived were mostly Spanish speaking, probably from South-American countries, 3 families, a young couple from Venezuela, and 6 single young men.
On Monday March 27th, we went to the border for the 6pm bus arrival in Plattsburgh, only to find that this bus had been cancelled on this day and for the rest of the week. Clearly the message was starting to get through. An RCMP officer told us only 6 people had arrived during the day shift at Roxham Road. When looking at the scraps of paper people had thrown away before entering the RCMP building, we found a folded-up drawing with well-wishes that must have been given to a child whose family was lucky enough to still be able to cross at Roxham. As we looked at it, we felt deeply sad about Canada having followed so many Western countries in becoming a 'fortress Canada' instead of welcoming refugees and giving them a safe new home.
A mild sunny day. We arrived at about 3.45pm. The bus was delayed arriving in Plattsburgh. Spoke with an RCMP officer.
Just after 4 pm the first taxi arrived bring a man in his 30's with a suitcase and he slowly crossed over. Shortly afterwards a black SUV (not a taxi) brought 2 Arabic speaking men, who looked like father and son. They did not speak English or French and also crossed without incident.
Other taxis arrived in quick succession. Next was a family of three, mother, father and little girl aged about 4 years old. They spoke English. Next a taxi brought two young men each with a tiny backpack. Both were wearing only shoes and one had no coat. They indicated they did not understand English or French.
The last taxi brought two single people who both spoke French. One was a man in his 30's who said to the officer that he was from Congo (DRC). The other person was a woman who might have been from Haiti. They both looked exhausted.
Everyone crossed into Canada without incident. The RCMP officers were respectful and spoke kindly, one of them warning people to mind the ruts in the path as they crossed over.
In total 10 people crossed into Canada - 2 women, 7 men and one child.
A cold sunny day at the border. We arrived at about 3.45 pm at Roxham.
At 4 pm the first taxi arrived bringing three young Tamil men from Sri Lanka. They spoke little English but happily took gloves, hats and scarves. They had hardly any belongings with them. The three crossed into Canada without incident. The taxi driver told us he had not picked them up at the bus station and that the 3pm bus had been delayed for an hour, probably because of the snow.
At about 4.30 a second taxi brought the first three passengers from the bus: a young man from Afghanistan, a woman from Columbia in her late 20’s and a man in his 40s from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A few minutes later two taxis arrived at the same time. The first one brought a large Syrian family: mother, father, a baby in a carrying seat, a two year old girl and two twin girls aged about 9-10 years. They had a lot of luggage but it consisted not of large suitcases but a considerable number of smaller improvised bags. It looked as though they had been traveling for a long time. The twin girls were very dynamic. They insisted on getting mitts and hats for the baby and toddler first. Then they accepted some for themselves. They were very diligent helping their father carry all the luggage to the edge of the border and after crossing they were ferrying the luggage back and forth into the RCMP building. All the while the mother was taking care of the baby and toddler. They crossed easily into Canada. I don’t think they understood what the RCMP officer told them.
The other taxi brought a family from Venezuela - a mother, a 7 year old girl and a young man. The mother was pregnant and smiled broadly when we congratulated her. They too entered Canada without incident.
We decided to leave about 5 pm. As we drove along Roxham, a black SUV passed us by. Approaching the junction with North Star road we saw another SUV drop off a group of people at the corner. They began walking down Roxham in our direction. We stopped and offered them warm things but they were too intent on walking to the border to stop. They were not dressed warmly and we were concerned for their safety as it was getting much colder and the walk to Roxham would take about 15 minutes. We turned around to return to the border. As we did the black SUV we had passed earlier came towards us. We stopped it and asked the driver if he was a taxi. He said he was an Uber driver. We asked him as a special favor to pick up the family and drive them to the border. He agreed and we met them when they arrived. At that point they were happy to accept warm things. They were a Persian speaking family from Iran with minimal luggage carried in backpacks: mother, father, baby, teenage boy and three younger children. The parents looked exhausted. They too crossed over safely.
In total we saw 19 people: three women, seven men and 9 children/teens.
We arrived at Roxham at 3.20 pm on a cold, snowy day. We were accompanied by two film students from the University of Quebec in Montreal. They were planning to make a documentary on Roxham Road for their degree studies.
The first taxi came at about 3.45 pm bringing seven young men (in their 20's and early 30's) from Afghanistan, Turkey and one who was likely from Sri Lanka. They were all in need of gloves, hats and scarves and carried very little with them. Some wore only shoes. After the police officer said the usual things, he added in a rather irritated tone: '' it's your choice now so make up your minds''. I was talking in basic English with a friendly man from Turkey while they waited to cross at the border. He pulled out a box of cigarettes and offered me one and so did another man. This was a first! I explained that they would not be able to smoke once they crossed into Canada :) They smilingly replaced them and crossed with the rest of the group without incident
Quickly after this a second taxi brought a family from Venezuela - a couple with two children in their early teens. We spoke halting Spanish with them which they appreciated. The father was concerned about being deported. They crossed into Canada. and likely did not understand what the RCMP said. This is often the case given the fact that people come from around the world and many do not speak English or French.
The last taxi brought another Hispanic family: parents and one child. They accepted some warm things but there was not time to speak with them.
In total we met with 14 people this afternoon.
The crossing went well. We arrived at Roxham Rd around 3:00pm.
3 taxis and an SUV all arrived at the same time at 3:37pm.
There were three young men from Venezuela (16 yrs old), from Congo (around 19), and from Nigeria (around 20); two men from Afghanistan in their 30s; a young woman and a family with a young child from Haiti; and a family with two children, 8 and 14, from Peru.
Two young men from Afghanistan (around 20 and 25), the younger one had no passport.
When it came to crossing over, the first border agent told the group they needed to cross at a regular border crossing or they would be arrested. The large group hesitated a little while (one of the taxi drivers stayed to see they got over...), then a few forged forward and the rest followed. The last taxi said there were no more coming.
Many were happy to get mitts etc, some came with their own.
My fellow volunteer had brought a scarf, a hat and 2 pairs of man's mitts which he gave away.
We left at 4:30pm, the return was without incident.
It was almost 4:15 before anyone arrived and then it was chaos! Seven cars and minivans arrived pretty much all at once. There was a group of about 8 from Colombia followed by a large extended family from Venezuela that arrived in several vehicles. They were travelling with about 10 young children ranging from a toddler to perhaps a 7 year old. I guess the taxis and vans don’t come equipped with child car seats and they pile in as many small kids as possible. A single man from Georgia came by private car. A young Afghani man arrived in a taxi with a group of Congolese. In our scramble to offer hats, gloves and scarves we rather lost count of exactly how many people crossed and where they were from but we would estimate about 40 in all. The RCMP seemed reasonable. We had no issues at either the US or Canadian border.
A chilly sunny day at Roxham Road. The first taxi arrived around 3.30 pm bringing one man from Georgia. He was warmly dressed and did not take any warm things. He did not speak any English or French. He walked across with one hand in the air. The RCMP officers were polite.
Shortly afterwards a taxi brought two young men, one from Afghanisatan and the other from Columbia. They accepted some warm clothes. One of the police officers spoke to the Columbian man in Spanish.
Another taxi brought a single man from Djibouti in east Africa. He spoke French .
Next a taxi arrived with a shy couple (woman and man) from Haiti who accepted some warm things. When the woman crossed over she failed to stop when the officer told her to do so. Eventually she did stop and the officer gave her quite a lecture about this. He asked them about open food and required them to dispose of it. Immediately afterwards two young Venezuelans arrived and accepted some warm things. A different officer dealt with them and was low key and respectful.
Then a family of four arrived consisting of a Haitian man, a Brazilian woman and their two children, a girl aged about 12 and a boy about 4 years old. The officer tried to encourage them to go to Lacolle and told them wrongly that their 'illegal' entry into Canada could affect their asylum case. This is absolutely not the case as all refugee claims received by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada are treated in the same way, regardless of how the person entered Canada. RCMP have no authority to give out any information about asylum claims, let alone false information.
The same officer made the family go through all their belongings looking for any open food. They had to dispose of it before crossing despite the fact that there are two large garbage bins just outside the RCMP installation. This took quite some time before they crossed over. Then, still outside, the officers took at least 10 minutes going through documents while the children were clearly suffering from the cold. Surely all this could have been dealt with inside in the warmth. Finally they were able to go inside.
The last person to arrive was a tall young man from Sri Lanka who spoke no English. He had a hat and gloves but accepted a scarf. He was carrying his cell phone that he looked at the whole time. He carried only a very small paper bag and no other belongings. After crossing he showed documents to the police officer but he did not appear to have a passport.
In total, 13 people crossed this afternoon: 2 children, two women and 9 men.
I arrived at the border about 2.45pm. The border agent was the younger one from the previous week. He immediately asked where the ''other person'' was who had been with me last Sunday. He continued with the same questions as he had the previous week and went through the trunk and the back seat. After consulting with a person inside the building he let me drive on.
I waited at Roxham Road for about 30 minutes when a taxi arrived with two men. Both of them were extremely scared, did not speak English, but said that they were from Turkey. They did not need hats or mittens but had almost no luggage. They stood at the border for a long time while an RCMP officer gave his usual speech. It was obvious that the men did not speak English. When they were finally on Canadian soil, the officer said that he did not speak Turkish and insisted that they needed to speak English because he knew that they could. He was very rough.
About 30 minutes later a private car arrived. A man brought another man, both were from Bangladesh. The driver said that he did not know the other person, he was just dropping him off. The passenger was well dressed, had a suitcase and went across without hesitation.
I left at about 4.30pm.
The earlier border visit reports were written by the volunteers who were at the border on that day, the later updates about the situation in the US are an attempt to keep a log of what we find out through our own visits in the US, or through contacts in the US.