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Bridges Not Borders still busy despite closure of Roxham Road

Wendy Ayotte of Bridges Not Borders (BNB), a Hemmingford-based organization that stands in solidarity with asylum seekers, says traffic on their website has dropped after a big surge when changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) were announced on March 25.

Now that the Roxham Road irregular crossing point has been closed, the website features important information for those hoping to enter Canada, including contact information for different organizations and lawyers to prepare their claims. The site also includes information for those who have been excluded from the country, and who must either appeal the decision or consider claiming asylum in the US.

Volunteers with BNB have also been travelling to the bus station in Plattsburgh, New York, to offer support and to keep a log of information gathered about some of the refugees who have been turned away at the border. Each time volunteers have gone, they have reported meeting with people who hold the now-telltale brown envelopes containing paperwork that excludes them from Canada. On April 27, volunteers met with six people, including a family of three, who had been returned to the U.S. “This tells us there are still people arriving,” says Ayotte.

An article published April 24 in La Presse reports that at least 264 people have been intercepted attempting to cross into Canada irregularly through Quebec since March 25. The information from the Canada Border Services Agency states that 185 of those who crossed were returned to the U.S., while 78 asylum seekers were deemed admissible.

“People are being turned back without any kind of support,” says Frances Ravensbergen of BNB, who suggests we are not hearing enough on this side of the border about the impacts of the Canadian government’s decision.

A report by North Country Public Radio in New York on April 19 noted that Plattsburgh Cares, an organization similar to BNB in its support for asylum seekers, was inundated with calls when Roxham Road was closed. Hundreds of people needed care when word did not get out fast enough and asylum seekers were stranded in Plattsburgh. A representative from the organization said nearly a third of its annual funding was spent helping asylum seekers that first week with food, emergency accommodations, and bus tickets.

Ayotte says BNB is currently evaluating whether the number of asylum seekers is diminishing at the Lacolle border. She says the organization is now attempting to work with a lawyer to determine what rights those living along the border have in terms of refusing RCMP officers’ access to their property, and what might happen to locals who may be asked to hide or help asylum seekers.

According to the STCA, those who do cross irregularly must remain in the country undetected for 14 days before they can claim asylum. Volunteers with BNB are also meeting this week with a representative from the United Nations Human Rights Commission to explore questioning the legality of the 14-day restriction under international refugee law.

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