Refugee claims soar at Quebec-U.S. border, new figures show

There were seven times more refugee claims at Quebec's land border in February than in the same month a year earlier, according to new statistics provided by the Canada Border Services Agency. 

A total of 724 people made claims last month after crossing into the province from the U.S. by land, compared with 99 in February 2016.

In January, 452 people claimed asylum at Quebec border crossings — a 230 per cent increase from January 2016.

The latest figures underscore the practical and political challenges facing the Canadian government as it deals with a recent surge in asylum seekers. 

Ottawa monitors situation

Federal cabinet ministers are expected to discuss the rise in asylum seekers at a meeting on Tuesday. 

The figures also came as U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new version of his controversial travel ban, aiming to withstand court challenges while still barring citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from acquiring new visas and putting restrictions on the U.S. refugee program.

The revised travel order leaves Iraq off the list of banned countries but still affects would-be visitors from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.

Immigration lawyers in Montreal believe the rise in asylum seekers is at least partly due to the political climate south of the border under the new president.

Big increase come spring?

Experts and officials believe the number of asylum seekers could climb further in the spring, when the temperature increases, making it easier to cross illegally into the country.

Though other Canadian provinces have also seen a surge in illegal crossings at the Canada- U.S., especially Manitoba, Quebec has seen the biggest jump in recent months.

Officials believe that may be due to Quebec's proximity to major U.S. hubs like New York City and Washington.

Over the past several months, asylum seekers have been frequently spotted at irregular crossings along the Quebec-U.S. border, often arriving by taxi at Roxham Road in New York and walking into Hemmingford on the Canadian side.

Jacqueline Roby, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, couldn't say how many of the refugee claimants crossed legally and how many crossed illegally.

The latest countrywide numbers were also not immediately available, she said in an email.