Hundreds of asylum seekers arrive in Windsor via the U.S., Ottawa confirms

CBC News

TJ Dhir · CBC News · Posted: Feb 16, 2023

Hundreds of asylum seekers are staying in hotels in Windsor, Ont., this month after arriving via the U.S., the Canadian government has confirmed.

The Windsor arrivals come as hundreds of people are entering Canada through Quebec, some with tickets purchased by agencies in some Republican states to send people northeast, and then from New York City to a small town near the Quebec border.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said about 3,300 people seeking asylum came to Ontario. The agency said 518 claimants staying in Windsor hotels have "arrived between designated ports of entry on the Canada/U.S. land border."

Mobile health clinics from the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre and the Ontario Health Team are at one of the hotels this week to provide medical assistance. Staff at another hotel have set up a makeshift cafeteria.

The IRCC said some of the claimants in Windsor came from Quebec.

"To help reduce pressures faced by an increase in asylum claimants entering the country, the government of Canada may transfer a number of asylum claimants from Quebec to Ontario," the IRCC said in an email.

"We are transferring individuals who have expressed interest in going to Ontario. Since June 30, 2022, the government of Canada has transferred 618 asylum claimants to Windsor in Ontario."

In Quebec, the Roxham Road border crossing is in the spotlight.

Republican states have sent asylum seekers northeast, according to Radio-Canada. From there, New York City has been paying for bus tickets to Plattsburgh, N.Y. — about 40 kilometres from the Quebec border — to "help asylum seekers who wish to move to another location," Kate Smart, a New York City spokesperson, told Radio-Canada.

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette told reporters on Tuesday that 380 people entered Canada through Roxham Road over the past weekend and only eight remained in Quebec.

In Windsor, a small lineup of refugees from various countries could be seen Tuesday outside the mobile health clinics at one of the hotels, holding various forms. 

Among them was Shair Aryan, who arrived in North America from Afghanistan a month ago, and said he was happy to be in Canada.

"Canada [is] one of my favourite countries," he said. "They provide very good service and facilities for refugees, and it's one of the most free countries.

"I would just like to live in a free country."

Another refugee from Afghanistan told Radio-Canada that he first entered Iran before receiving a humanitarian visa to enter Brazil. He arrived in the U.S., then entered Canada through Roxham Road. He's now in a hotel in Windsor.

Aryan said he came to Windsor on a bus from Washington, D.C., with other refugees on board. He said many of his fellow travellers were from countries in Latin America. 

Border communities in Ontario such as Niagara Falls and Cornwall are also seeing an increase in asylum seekers.

Refugees have been arriving in Fort Erie, Ont., as well. Mayor Wayne Redekop confirmed both town-affiliated facilities that house refugees — Casa El Norte and Matthew House Fort Erie — were full. He also said many have arrived through Buffalo, N.Y., which isn't unusual.

"There's been a lot of co-ordination over the years between the individuals who are assisting refugees in Canada in Fort Erie and in the United States in Buffalo," Redekop said. "Those routes go back to at least 1980 and because it's a well- known route for refugees into Canada, there's a large number of them that come here."

IRCC told CBC News that 2,841 asylum claimants have been being housed in "hotel operations" in Niagara Falls.

CBC News also requested interviews with Conservative MP Chris Lewis, Conservative MP and immigration critic Tony Kmiec and NDP MP and immigration critic Jenny Kwan. None of them were available for an interview.