Why some migrants turn around and head back to NYC after free bus ride to near Canadian border

Freezing rain clings to a 'do not enter' sign at Roxham Road on Jan. 5, 2022. Migrants are being bused near the area from New York City. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)
Freezing rain clings to a 'do not enter' sign at Roxham Road on Jan. 5, 2022. Migrants are being bused near the area from New York City. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)

At the Port Authority in New York City, Ilze Thielmann greets would-be refugees as they step off buses.

Many of them were put on buses in southern U.S. states, where officials say they are unable to deal with the deepening migrant crisis.

Thielmann's non-profit organization, Team TLC, and others like it get funding from New York City to help those new arrivals get where they want to go. The process is called "re-ticketing."

Many of them want to go north, to Plattsburgh, N.Y. — the closest town to Roxham Road, an irregular border crossing into Canada used by asylum seekers.


"They want to cross the Canadian border and take their chances there," Thielmann said. "They think that there are all these jobs up there. They think they're going to be able to get asylum very easily up there and that's just not the case."

Re-ticketing in New York City is not a shocking or surprising process, advocates in Montreal say. But getting a job is often not as easy as the migrants think and overburdened community services are struggling to handle the number of people who are crossing into Canada. As a result, Theilmann said some re-ticketed migrants turn around and come right back.

The New York Post first reported on Sunday that migrants in New York City were receiving free bus tickets — courtesy of charities funded by New York taxpayers — to go to Plattsburgh.

From there, many of them board taxis to Roxham Road, where they enter Canada illegally and claim asylum.

New York Mayor Eric Adams said in an interview with a local television station on Tuesday morning that the city has a partnership with charities to help migrants leave.

"Those who are seeking to go somewhere else, [we're] not we're pushing or forcing — if they're seeking to go somewhere else, we are helping in the re-ticketing process," he told Fox 5 TV's Good Day New York.

"We found that people had other destinations, but they were being compelled only to come to New York City … Some want to go to Canada, some want to go to warmer states, and we are there for them as they continue to move on with their pursuit of this dream."

Not so different from Quebec

Eva Gracia-Turgeon, the co-ordinator of Foyer du Monde, a shelter for asylum claimants in Montreal, said she was not shocked to learn New York City was helping asylum seekers leave the city.

New York is aware "that a lot of people cannot live in that city anymore because of the prices, because of the lack of housing," and so it gives tickets for people to go elsewhere, she said, "somewhere they can actually find a house or maybe meet a family member."

The move, in her opinion, is not so different from migrants in Montreal being encouraged to move to Quebec's regions, and New York City is providing migrants with safe transportation to reach locations they would likely be heading to anyway.


"I don't see where the problem is exactly," she said. "I think the problem is, for a lot of politicians, the fact [that] Roxham Road exists. And they want to point to [re-ticketing] as another element for closing Roxham Road, where it's not the solution."

"You can put a wall, you can close a road, but it's still not going to change the situation. You still need to take care of the people you receive in your own province, in your own country."

Abdulla Daoud, the executive director of the Refugee Centre in Montreal, says he doesn't think New York paying for bus tickets for migrants is contributing to a new wave of people crossing at Roxham Road.

The bigger problem, he says, is the slow crawl of federal government bureaucracy that delays asylum seekers as they seek work permits in Canada. These delays leave them reliant on public assistance and overburdened community services.

The Quebec government on Monday announced an investment of $3.5 million to 12 organizations in Montreal, Laval, Montérégie and Quebec City to provide support to migrants.

"I appreciate Quebec's announcement of investing more into community groups," Daoud said, "but this should also be a federal thing. And if we regulate the crossings in a way, by cancelling [the Safe Third Country Agreement] completely, it will actually help individuals cross at different points throughout Canada. That way, the brunt isn't just on Quebec."

Suspend Safe 3rd Country Agreement

It's a sentiment echoed by opposition parties in Quebec, who say the flood of migrants using Roxham Road demonstrates the need to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The agreement, signed in 2002 between Canada and the United States, means that migrants must submit their asylum application in the first of the two countries they enter and cannot try a second time at an official border crossing.

If they try to cross into Canada at an official land border crossing, because of the agreement, they will be turned away.

But the agreement only applies to claims made at official border crossings. If a refugee enters Canada illegally, via Roxham Road, for example, and then claims asylum on Canadian soil, the Safe Third Country Agreement does not apply.

Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the agreement should be suspended so migrants stop crossing irregularly at Roxham Road, where the passage can be dangerous, and instead seek asylum at official crossings.

"It has been going on for too long already," Nadeau-Dubois said. "It's easy to play politics on the back of Roxham Road. It's harder to propose pragmatic solutions that will work and protect people."

Marc Tanguay, the interim leader of the Liberal party, urged the federal government to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement so "the U.S. takes more responsibility and doesn't become just a crossing ground, that the U.S. doesn't let states take these poor people and put them on buses that bring them to the border. These are people, not merchandise."