Quebec minister 'surprised' asylum seekers given free bus tickets from New York City
MONTREAL — News that the City of New York is providing free bus tickets to migrants heading north to claim asylum in Canada highlights an urgent need to address the situation at the border, Quebec's immigration minister said Monday.
Speaking to reporters in Montreal, Christine Fréchette called the report "surprising." She said Ottawa needs to "solve the problem of Roxham Road," which is an unofficial border crossing south of Montreal used by tens of thousands of people last year to claim asylum.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams told Fox 5 on Monday that his administration helps in the "re-ticketing process" for people who arrive in the city but want to go elsewhere. He has previously said the city was being overwhelmed with new arrivals, and he has criticized the practice of some U.S. governors who transport migrants straight from the southern border to the city.
On Monday, Adams told the news station that the city does not push or force people to leave, but some express a desire to move on to other places, including Canada.
"We found that people had other destinations, but they were being compelled only to come to New York City, and we are assisting in interviewing those who seek to go somewhere else," he told the news station.
"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."
His comments came after the New York Post reported that some migrants in New York City are being given free tickets to Plattsburgh, N.Y. From there they can travel about half an hour by shuttle or taxi to cross into Quebec at Roxham Road.
An official with Adams' office confirmed the city works with community organizations to "re-ticket to help get people to their final destination." The municipal administration doesn't treat requests for bus tickets to Plattsburgh any differently than those for other American cities, the official added.
Eric Durr, a spokesman for the U.S. National Guard, said its members are present at New York City's biggest bus terminal to ask disembarking migrants what services they need — whether that's housing, medical care or help getting to another destination. However, the military force only connects people to resources and does not hand out bus tickets, Durr said.
Fréchette noted that Canada is currently in negotiations with the United States to modernize the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which stipulates that people seeking refugee protection must claim asylum in whichever of the two countries they arrive in first.
But the agreement only applies at official border crossings, leading some people to use unofficial crossing points such as Roxham Road to reach Canada. Fréchette urged Ottawa to expand the agreement so that it applies across the entire border, from "coast to coast."
"I think it makes the urgency of the situation even more apparent," she said of the bus ticket story.
Her comments came as the Quebec government announced $3.5 million in aid for community organizations that have been struggling to provide food, clothing and housing for rising numbers of asylum seekers.
Fréchette said that while Quebec is prepared to help support refugee claimants, it wants the federal government to ensure other provinces take in a bigger share.
Federal data shows that Quebec — with less than 25 per cent of the population — received over 59,000 of the country's 92,715 asylum claims last year.
All but a few hundred of the 39,540 people who crossed "irregularly" in between official border points did so in Quebec, overwhelmingly at Roxham Road.
Fréchette also urged Ottawa to speed up work permits for asylum seekers so they can begin supporting themselves and their families more quickly.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press
Morgan Lowrie and Marie-Ève Martel, The Canadian Press