US-Canadian Border: Road of Hope for Migrants

Status: 03/23/2023 07:02 a.m

Anyone coming from the USA who wants to seek asylum in Canada will be turned away. Unless you’re crossing the border illegally – like on Roxham Road. 98 percent of all asylum seekers enter the country via this road.

By Peter Mücke, ARD Studio New York

Roxham Road is a nondescript gravel road between the US state of New York and the Canadian province of Quebec. In the past, slaves from the southern United States fled here for freedom in Canada. After that, only smugglers were interested in the border road, which had been unsecured for a long time, says Frances Ravensbergen from the organization Bridges not Borders – “Bridges instead of borders”.

“There was nothing here – until 2017, when many people came from Haiti,” explains Ravensberger. “Then the police first set up a tent. Then a barracks. Then a real building with toilets. And now we have a fully equipped police post here.”

Taxis usually bring migrants here to Roxham Road from the nearest town of Plattsburgh. It costs $70 per person, $90 for a family. Canadian police officers receive the people.

Image: ARD New York

Frances Ravensbergen of the Bridges not Borders organization on Roxham Road says: “People know that if they want to come to Canada, this is a safe place to do it.”

Image: ARD New York

“Safe place to come to Canada”

Drones are now flying over the site, cameras are monitoring the area, and officials are on duty around the clock. In recent years, Roxham Road has become the road of hope for many migrants who would rather live in Canada than in the USA. Last year alone there were 40,000. This year already more than 10,000.

“People know that if they want to come to Canada, this is a safe place to do so. Here they are arrested and then bussed to the local border post. From there they go to Montreal, where they get papers and can then apply for asylum.” , according to Ravensbergen.

This is only possible because Roxham Road is an illegal border crossing. On a legal one, people would have to be turned away. An agreement with the USA, the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement concluded in 2004, provides for this.

“It’s illegal to enter Canada from here”

Migrants continued to come to the US side of Roxham Road today. Taxis usually bring them here from the nearest town of Plattsburgh. It costs $70 per person, $90 for a family.

At a turning hammer they are let out with their belongings. From there it is only a few meters to the border, which is marked by a small white post. Canadian police officers receive the people.

A young man with a wheeled suitcase doesn’t want to stop and walk straight across the border. For a short time it looks as if the situation could escalate. Then he stays on the US side. “It’s illegal to enter Canada from here,” says the border policeman. “If they do, I have to arrest them.”

Work possible after just a few months

Ravensbergen of Bridges not Borders stands here on the Canadian side of Roxham Road almost every day. Together with other volunteers, she wants to help the newcomers. On cold days, they distribute gloves, hats and scarves to the migrants, some of whom are seeing snow here for the first time. And she gives them advice, just like today: “You have to do what they say. Listen. Follow the rules and nothing will happen to you. Don’t push, calm down. Listen and answer.”

Whether people really understood them is unclear. But most of them nod gratefully. For them, crossing the border is the beginning of a new life. In Canada, they have the prospect of being able to work after just a few months. Until then, they will receive support from the state and access to free medical care.

New York donates bus tickets to the border

That’s far more than in the USA, where the processing of asylum applications also takes much longer, says lawyer Stéphanie Valois, who supports many migrants in Montreal: “Most of my clients want a decision quickly so that they can bring their family members over to them . Many applicants have also been previously imprisoned in the United States. They are afraid of that. They don’t want to be imprisoned.”

In Canada, after their personal details have been determined, they are released and live in refugee accommodation for a few weeks. In the USA, people are happy to get rid of at least some of the migrants, millions of whom come from the south, heading north.

The city of New York even donates tickets for the Greyhound bus to the border. But even in Canada, especially in Quebec, the mood is slowly threatening to change. Right-wing parties in particular are calling for Roxham Road to be closed completely.

Agreement with USA to be renegotiated

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejects this: “Could you set up barricades and build a big wall on Roxham Road? Yes, you could. The only problem is: we have a 6,000-kilometer border with the USA. The only way effectively stopping irregular immigration is renegotiating the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US, and that’s what we’re doing as a government right now.”

The 2004 agreement between Canada and the United States stipulates that the country where migrants arrive first is responsible for the asylum process. Usually the USA. That’s why people have to be turned away at legal border crossings into Canada – and try illegal ways, especially via Roxham Road.

Which is why activist Ravensbergen is also calling for the agreement to be abolished: “Then migrants could enter the country via all regular border crossings. That would also solve the problems we are currently having in Quebec: 98 percent of asylum seekers come overland via Roxham Road . If you spread that across Canada, you could take care of the migrants across the country. Housing, support, jobs: everything is focused on Quebec right now.” Roxham Road just doesn’t make sense in so many areas.

Road of Hope for Migrants – The Roxham Road between the US and Canada

Peter Mücke, ARD New York currently Quebec/Canada, March 22, 2023 3:07 p.m