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Border-crosser arrests drop steeply in B.C., rise elsewhere

An asylum claimant is arrested by an RCMP officer after crossing the border into Canada from the United States near Hemmingford, Que. While Quebec and Manitoba have seen increases in arrests at the border, B.C.’s number has dropped.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The number of people who were arrested after illegally crossing the U.S. border into British Columbia dropped significantly in February, but refugee advocates say the totals are still higher than normal.

Statistics recently released by the federal government say 207 asylum seekers were apprehended by the B.C. RCMP in January, compared with 245 arrests in Quebec and 19 in Manitoba.

But while the numbers jumped in Quebec and Manitoba the following month, B.C. saw a sharp decline. In February, Quebec had 432 people intercepted by police, Manitoba had 142 and B.C. saw 84. The data did not indicate precisely where in the provinces those arrests were made.

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Mario Ayala, executive director of the Vancouver-based Inland Refugee Society, said in an interview that of the refugee claimants his organization has been involved with in recent months, many have been from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The motivations of the refugee claimants, he said, have varied.

"[Some of them] are afraid of the new policies and the new government in the United States. There are others who say the final destination for them was Canada and the U.S. was like a bridge," he said.

"They have that perspective that Canada is more friendly and understanding than America."

Mr. Ayala said B.C.'s numbers are higher than it typically sees.

He previously said his organization met with 29 refugee claimants in October, but that number climbed to 83 in November. The total fell to 52 one month later, but jumped back up to 98 in January.

The society met with 76 refugee claimants last month. While most of the people the society is involved with walked across the border, others arrived in this province by plane, Mr. Ayala said.

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Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with the Immigrant Services Society of BC, said in an interview that Iraq and Afghanistan were the top two source countries in December and January. He said 49 refugee claimants during that period were from Iraq and 26 were from Afghanistan.

Mr. Friesen said Mexico was the top source country in February, with 22 refugee claimants, compared with 16 from Iraq and nine from Afghanistan.

The numbers provided by the Immigrant Services Society also include both border crossings and airport arrivals. Mr. Friesen said 80 per cent of the totals stem from border crossings.

Andrew Hopkins, a Canadian Red Cross spokesperson, said in an interview that its First Contact Vancouver program, which refers newly arrived refugees to settlement agencies and other resources, has since late 2015 had the majority of its callers request assistance in Arabic, Farsi and Kurdish.

He said Afghanistan and Iraq have been the top source countries during that period. He said that ranking can fluctuate, as the top source countries in 2013 and 2014 were China, Pakistan and Colombia.

Staff Sergeant Annie Linteau, a B.C. RCMP spokesperson, said in an e-mail that "there has been an increase in illegal migration in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia, with the largest increase being seen in Quebec."

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When asked what steps the force is taking, Staff Sgt. Linteau said the RCMP is utilizing "a layered approach in order to monitor and respond to activities along our borders, using all of the resources, technology, intelligence and partnerships at our disposal.

"This layered approach to border security means that we have deployed our border enforcement resources to the regions of highest activity between ports of entry. The RCMP is continually reviewing its operational priorities to ensure areas are appropriately resourced. As required, resources from other areas may be redeployed on a short-term basis to meet operational needs."

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