The number of asylum seekers who are crossing into Canada by foot has been steadily increasing, but the RCMP has yet to charge anyone for illegal entry into Canada this year, federal officials said.
The asylum seekers are arrested as they enter into Canada, at which point the RCMP conducts checks to see if they were engaged in criminal acts such as trafficking.
So far this year, none of the hundreds of asylum seekers who have come to Canada have been charged for illegal entry, and they were all transferred to the Canada Border Services Agency. Their status will now be determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, federal officials said at a background media briefing on Thursday.
The official added it is too early to determine if the levels of asylum seekers this year will go beyond normal fluctuations, although they insisted they are closely monitoring the situation. One official said it would be "speculative" to state that the coming arrival of spring will lead to sharp rises in numbers this year.
Still, federal officials confirmed that numbers are on the rise. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21 of this year, the federal government dealt with nearly 4,000 asylum cases, compared to 2,500 in the same time frame in 2016. So far this year, 435 people were arrested at the border by the RCMP before being transferred to the CBSA.
The federal officials, who spoke on condition that they would not be named, represented the key agencies involved in border issues, namely the RCMP, CBSA and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
They pointed out there have historically been large variations in the arrival of asylum seekers in Canada. In 2001, for example, there were nearly 45,000 cases, compared to 10,400 in 2013. Last year, the officials said Canada dealt with 24,000 asylum claims, including 2,500 people who were intercepted by the RCMP.
"The government of Canada has always managed these fluctuations," a federal official said.
A number of the recent claimants said they were fleeing a climate of intolerance in the United States and the threat of deportation stemming from U.S. President Donald Trump's statements on illegal immigration.
Canadian officials said large numbers of recent asylum seekers have come from Somalia, Djibouti and the Middle East, in addition to countries such as Romania. The largest increase in illegal border crossings has been seen in Quebec, although there have been dramatic stories of people crossing into Manitoba in frigid and life-threatening conditions.
One official said that Canada "does not encourage" anyone to illegally cross the border.
Federal officials said the asylum seekers often arrive into Canada with legal visas from the United States, adding such facts will be considered in the determination of their status in Canada. The process will take between four and 12 months.
For now, the government has gathered biometric data on all individuals and conducted health assessments before releasing them.
Ottawa still considers the U.S. a "safe third country," as defined by an agreement that requires all asylum claimants to seek protection in the first safe country in which they arrive. However, the agreement "does not apply when someone enters Canada illegally between designated ports of entry," the federal government said.