N.B. accepts asylum seekers from Quebec's Roxham Road, 'ready to do its part,' minister says

Arlene Dunn, the minister responsible for Opportunities N.B., said the province is still finalizing the total number of refugee claimants to be transferred from Quebec to New Brunswick. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Arlene Dunn, the minister responsible for Opportunities N.B., said the province is still finalizing the total number of refugee claimants to be transferred from Quebec to New Brunswick. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick has accepted 57 asylum seekers who originally made their claim at the Roxham Road border crossing in Quebec.

In February, Quebec Premier François Legault sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking that migrants applying for asylum at the Roxham Road border crossing be redirected to other provinces. He said Quebec can't handle any more.

Roxham Road crosses the Canada-U.S. border between Quebec and New York and is located about 50 kilometres south of Montreal. It's long been an unofficial border crossing for asylum seekers looking to get into Canada.

Last year, about 39,000 people applied for asylum at the border, Legault said. It's not clear how many of them stayed in Quebec.

In a Friday statement, Arlene Dunn, the Minister responsible for Opportunities N.B., said the province "has welcomed 57 asylum claimants" from Quebec. She said 36 are in Fredericton and 21 in Moncton.

She said they arrived by bus through the process set in place by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

"New Brunswick is ready to do its part to respond to the influx of asylum seekers crossing from the United States to Quebec," she said.

New Brunswick officials are still working to confirm the number of claimants that "our province will be welcoming in the short-term," she said.

Dunn said the federal government is providing support to those arriving in New Brunswick, but did not respond to questions about what kind of resources are available.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

At a news conference alongside federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, Dunn said all 57 have completed a skills questionnaire.

"We were there with the multicultural associations on the ground, speaking with them, understanding their circumstances, understanding where they were coming from, getting a better understanding of their skill sets, of their language capabilities," she said.

"Our priority is to make sure that we assist them in getting employment and settling into our communities and helping them thrive."

45 days to find a lawyer, submit application

Unlike provinces like Quebec and Ontario, New Brunswick does not provide legal aid services to refugee claimants who can't afford a lawyer.

The New Brunswick Refugee Clinic is a Moncton-based group that helps claimants with the legal process for free. Executive director Olivia Huynh said the clinic is the only one of its kind in the province, and has only one employee — Huynh herself. Last year, with the help of three volunteer lawyers, she represented about 30 people, she said.

With the recent influx of claimants, she said her organization would not be able to help everyone unless they can expand and hire more lawyers.

Submitted by Olivia Huynh
Submitted by Olivia Huynh

"It's not clear how many people we can represent," she said. "If say for example, 150 people are coming to New Brunswick in the span of a few months, that would be beyond our clinic's capacity to represent all of them in their hearings, especially ... if they're coming within the same time frame."

On Friday, Fraser said the government is working toward finding a solution for legal aid funding, but there is no set plan yet. He did not address the 45-day window.

Huynh said people crossing through Roxham Road are initially assessed to see if they are eligible. If they're not, they're not admitted to Canada.

If a person is eligible, Huynh said they are screened, photographed, and given a special ID card called a "brown paper." They also undergo health testing, and are admitted into Canada to prepare their application, including providing evidence that they're not safe in their country.

On the day of the crossing, a 45-day clock starts ticking. If they don't find a lawyer, they may have to ask for an extension or represent themselves. Huynh said self-represented claimants are less likely to be granted refuge.

"Especially with the language barrier and with people who are just recently arriving to Canada," she said. "Their chances of success are much lower without a lawyer ... Even if they do have a very strong claim and a credible claim."

She said as far as she knows, most if not all of the 57 people in New Brunswick are still within the 45-day window. The organization has been making presentations to the newcomers about the process of completing their asylum claim. She said they're also setting up one-on-one meetings to assess each case.

The non-profit is funded by grants, donations and the municipalities of Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview, she said. She's reached out to the province, and plans to send a letter to the federal government as well, but no funding plans have been finalized.