For Haitians, Venezuelans and Colombians, Canada is the last border of exile

It’s just a small stretch of road under the snow, but for them, Haitian, Venezuelan, Colombian, and Turkish immigrants it is the last stop on a long journey of exile. Some carry heavy suitcases and others nothing more than a small plastic bag, vestiges of their past lives.

Eager to get there, the immigrants quicken their pace as they get out of a vehicle with their heads bowed to finally cross the last border of his journey, the one that separates United States Canadaon the route between New York and Montreal.

"Stop, the passage at this point is illegal, if you do you will be arrested"repeat Quebec police officers to the migrants disembarking by day and night groups at the point known as Roxham Road.

Among the new arrivals, in the midst of a heavy snowfall, some have no coats or boots, only light clothing and tennis shoes. The mothers carry the little ones, with their stuffed animals sticking out of their suitcases and baby carriages that get stuck in the snow.

Only the children laugh, fascinated by the snow they see for the first time.

With a small backpack on his back, Makenzy Dorgeville, who flee the violence of the Haitian streets says to be "very happy" to reach Canada after years on this route. A trip that he describes as an obstacle course that he summarizes by listing the 10 countries of Central and South America that he crossed from Brazil.

Like many migrants, The frail-looking 40-year-old knows that even if his asylum application is rejected, Canada does not deport Haitians.

Marcelo, also from Haiti, with a weathered face, says "have suffered a lot in your country" by gang violencewhile Canada represents the hope of a new life.

Before they cross the border, NGOs distribute them blankets, hats and words of encouragement. "We want you to know that there are people who support you in your search for a safe place to live."explains Frances Ravensbergen, a volunteer at "creons des ponts" (Building bridges).

Specifically, after being registered by the police, migrants are taken to the nearest official border post to file a asylum application, between 50 and 60% of these are accepted.

Insecurity on the rise
After a few months they achieve a work permitThe children can go to school. They also benefit from health services and are accommodated in assistance centers or hotels during the time that their application is being processed.

Since the reopening of borders after the pandemic, migratory flows are intensifying in the world fueled by economic misery and growing insecurity in various countries.

Roxham Road is now a popular transit point and videos explaining how to get there and how much the ticket costs from the nearest bus station in Plattsburgh abound on social networks.

In 2022, about 40,000 people arrived illegally through this route, twice as many as in 2017, when the previous record was recorded, according to Canada’s immigration office. And winter does not discourage those who want to go, only in January there were more than 5,000.

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This irregular immigration is new to Canada, a country that is difficult to access due to its geographical location and has a strict visa policy.

"The speed of the system, among other things, is what motivates people to come. On the US side, it takes five to six years, even longer, compared to two years on average in Canada."explains Stéphanie Valois, president of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association.

Calls to close Roxham Road are multiplying, but Valois recalls that in the "search for security people are ready for anything" and that Canada, as a rich country, has a responsibility. "Asylum seekers cross the Darien, it is not the border that will stop them", ensures.

This jungle between Colombia and Panama "It is a physically very difficult pass, with mountains and a lot of mud".

"People who have crossed it are very marked. My clients tell me horror stories, women who have been raped, men beaten and many die on this route."recounts the lawyer with long gray hair and round glasses who has devoted her life to defending asylum seekers.

"if you fall you die"

This part of the trip continues to be a trauma for Haitian Eli (name changed), who recently arrived and was interviewed by AFP in Montreal.

"the jungle is the worst"admits the young woman with long braids and large Creole earrings in her ears and who does not lose her smile. "I saw many deaths on that route. One night we had to sleep next to the bodies"says the 29-year-old woman who crossed this pass with her little daughter, who was two years old at the time.

In the middle of a narrow path, precipices, wild animals, "you know that if you fall, you die"add.

And the other part that still gives Eli nightmares was the move to the United States, especially the detention centers.

"It’s a humiliation! They forbid us even to wash, brush our teeth"explains by pointing to a "inhumane treatment".

The issue of the flow of asylum seekers, especially through Roxham Road, is expected to be on the agenda of talks between the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, during his visit to Ottawa. , on March 23 and 24.

For Canada, unaccustomed to these issues, the immigration rhetoric is on the rise. And more and more voices call for the renegotiation of a treaty that stipulates, such as the Dublin agreement in Europethat migrants must file their asylum application in the first country they arrive.

Despite everything, the situation is very different from that of the United States, estimates Carolina, who recently fled with her daughter and mentions racism in the United States. This young Colombian mother is happy "to be able today to simply go out into the street without fear".

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