Selena Ross, Washington Post, April 28, 2018
As Nigerian asylum seekers flood into Canada across a ditch in Upstate New York, Canadian authorities are asking the United States for help – but not with managing the influx at the border.
Instead, they want U.S. immigration officials to reduce the foot traffic by screening Nigerians more stringently before granting them U.S. visas.
It is a ripple effect that few expected last summer when people, mostly Haitians, began to walk into Quebec via an “irregular” border crossing north of Plattsburgh, N.Y., and seek refugee status.
Many Haitians had lived in the United States for years before suddenly learning they would lose their protected status and fleeing north. But many of the Nigerian asylum seekers are arriving in Quebec with recently issued U.S. visitor visas, said Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Canada’s immigration minister.
Canada is not asking U.S. officials to refuse entry to Nigerians, Genest said. It is seeking stricter screening to ensure that Nigerians who are granted U.S. visitor visas truly intend to return home.
The Canadian government has been trying to tone down its welcoming image – or, rather, to provide accurate information about how it processes refugee claims. Ethnic communities in the United States have been warned that actually winning refugee status here is hard.
But the campaign has been ineffective. As of mid-April, nearly 6,000 people had entered Quebec unofficially, three times as many as during the same period in 2017. And in 2017, claims across the country had doubled from the year before.
A complicated web of factors explains why most of the new claimants are Nigerian.
But it has never been easy for Nigerians – or many other asylum seekers – to enter Canada to lodge a claim in the first place, partly because of its geography. Most foreigners need a visa to board a flight to North America, and the United States grants visitor visas more freely, said Benn Proctor, a researcher at the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute.
No one can officially enter Canada from the United States as a refugee claimant because of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which forces people arriving in either country to make their claim where they first land. Last year, however, a way around that became apparent, when news organizations and past border-crossers on social media publicized the locations of Canada’s unofficial land crossings, opening an opportunity for Nigerians.
“If your final [destination] is Canada, you’ll want to walk across the border,” Proctor said.
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications,” a department representative said in a statement. “At this time, we have no changes to our visa application process to announce.”
The United States has also become less appealing to Nigerians as a place to stay rather than to pass through, they say. Many took personally two comments reportedly made by Trump – one last June about Nigerian immigrants going “back to their huts” and another in January about African “s—hole” countries.
Winning U.S. asylum claims has become much harder, as well. The approval rate dropped 26 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics compiled by Human Rights First.
As a signatory to international conventions, Acer said, Canada should open its doors further and “actually terminate its Safe Third Country Agreement … if the United States is simply not meeting that standard, given its harsh treatment of asylum seekers.”
Many of Canada’s new asylum seekers may end up disappointed. Of asylum claims processed last year – a minority of the total awaiting adjudication – more than half of the Nigerians were rejected, a significant jump from the previous three years, and nearly three-quarters of the Haitians were rejected, up from about half.
Their likely fate: deportation.