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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister urges Ottawa to act on asylum-seekers jumping border

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is pictured at his office in Winnipeg on Jan. 6, 2017.

Steve Lambert/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba's premier says the federal government needs to stop talking and take action on an influx of people who have jumped the border from the U.S. to seek asylum in Canada.

"I don't want this to be taken as a criticism of the federal government. I see an opportunity here for the federal government that they are not yet pursing to improve the way we do things and help make sure we are addressing a situation that some would fear is getting somewhat out of hand," Brian Pallister said Thursday.

"So I would encourage, again, the federal government to move beyond the talking points of us having had a worse problem 15 years ago and recognize there is a challenge today. We need to face the challenges of today together."

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Read more: Canada's border agencies shift staff to deal with illegal crossings

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Related: Asylum seekers' cold crossings to Canada: A guide to the saga so far

The Tory premier made the comments as he announced more aid for refugee claimants in Manitoba: 14 new emergency housing units, $110,000 for paralegal and other services and $70,000 for a co-ordinator to support claimants.

The province is also moving paramedics to the border near the municipality of Emerson-Franklin to help local emergency crews deal with people who make the frigid walk into Canada.

The announcement was welcomed by the community's reeve, Greg Janzen, who said emergency response to migrants crossing the border in the cold can strain resources in the sprawling rural area.

"For instance, two weekends ago, there were two medical calls (for migrants), so we had two ambulances sitting at the border. And ... when that happens ... then the whole south-central area (of Manitoba) is short two ambulances," Janzen said.

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"If there's a traffic accident out in Plum Coulee (50 kilometres away) and all the ambulances are sitting at the border, somebody's not getting service."

Pallister reiterated his belief that an influx of refugee claimants coming from the United States is a national issue that needs a national plan.

That plan, he said, would involve better information sharing and better co-ordination of resources. He would not be more specific or provide details of a letter he said he is writing to the prime minister.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Thursday the federal government is monitoring the situation and has been in contact with community leaders in the Emerson area.

"We're all trying to pull together in a collaborative effort to make sure that Canada and Canadians ... can deal with this situation in a proper way that respects Canadian law, that treats asylum-seekers in a generous and compassionate way and serves the best interest of Canadians," Goodale said in Ottawa.

"I take it from the media comments that that is premier Pallister's objective too. He wants an effective solution and we're all anxious to work together."

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The number of people fleeing the United States, largely from African countries originally, has jumped in recent weeks after planned crackdowns on immigration in the U.S. Asylum-seekers have been crossing fields and ditches near border communities such as Emerson-Franklin, Man., and Hemmingford, Que.

The tactic is a way to get around the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires anyone who has already applied for refugee status in the U.S. to be turned away at an official border crossing in Canada. However, if someone crosses somewhere else and gets apprehended on Canadian soil, he or she can make a refugee claim and the case is heard by Canadian authorities.

Some immigration lawyers and politicians want Canada to change the agreement so that people can turn themselves in at official border crossings and still get their refugee claim heard.

Ottawa has so far resisted those calls.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said earlier this week that he sees no need to change the agreement, because the United States is still living up to its international obligations in dealing with asylum-seekers.

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