Millions to manage asylum seekers doesn't mean new influx: Liberals - InfoNews

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Millions to manage asylum seekers doesn't mean new influx: Liberals

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen speaks to reporters prior to taking part in a citizenship ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. The federal Liberals say $173 million set aside in this week's federal budget to respond to asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada doesn't mean a new surge of arrivals is expected this year.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
March 02, 2018 - 2:05 PM

OTTAWA - The $173 million set aside in this week's federal budget to respond to people illegally crossing into Canada from the U.S. to seek asylum shouldn't be interpreted as officials predicting another record-breaking year for asylum claims, the federal Liberals say.

"The reality is, on a forward-looking basis, that we want to be as prepared as possible for whatever eventuality," said Mark Holland, the parliamentary secretary for public safety.

"That is good planning, but it is not indicative of clairvoyance."

So far in 2018, about 1,500 people have been stopped by the RCMP between official border points — nearly five times the number stopped in January 2017, the slowest month for new arrivals in all of last year.

By year's end, 20,000 would-be refugees arrived along the Canada-U.S. border, the height of it during a summer surge that saw hundreds showing up a day.

The situation prompted a diplomatic and technical response that included tents at the border, dozens of government officials reassigned to manage claims, the fast-tracking of work permits and several trips to the U.S. by members of Parliament to explain the nuances of Canada's immigration system and discourage people from making the trek.

How much the government spent on all those efforts has yet to revealed. But in the budget released by the Liberals this week, $173.2 million was set aside between 2018 and 2020 under the heading of "irregular migration, managing the border."

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the money stems from the contingency plans drawn up in the aftermath of last year's experience.

"We don't expect (a future influx), but we are ready when and if it happens," Hussen said Friday after an event in Toronto.

Among the agencies in line for the cash is the Immigration and Refugee Board, currently staring down a backlog of 43,000 claims overall and wait times of 20 months.

The board has said repeatedly that without additional funding, the backlog would grow. The IRB was unable to immediately explain how the $74 million they will receive will help ease that strain.

For months, Hussen had insisted the board needed to find ways to improve its productivity and also await the results of an independent third party review before any more money came its way. The new funds don't represent a change of heart, he said.

"Regardless of the results of that review, we know that in order to deal with that backlog and for the IRB to be able to be better equipped, the IRB must have access to extra resources."

One single issue is not responsible for pushing so many people north from the U.S. in recent months, though the majority are Haitian. The reason they and the rest avoid formal border points, however, is the so-called safe third country agreement, which doesn't let people file asylum claims at land border offices.

Opposition immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the Liberals need to address that, rather than throw money at the problem.

"While the Liberal government has no problem asking Canadians to pay millions of dollars for their failure to manage illegal border crossings, Trudeau believes that veterans are asking for too much after fighting for this country," she said.

"Canada's Conservatives call on the prime minister to stand up for Canada and take real action by closing the loophole in the safe third country agreement."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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