MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canada has deployed soldiers to erect tents near the U.S. border to temporarily house hundreds of asylum seekers crossing from New York state, officials said on Wednesday, an influx of mostly Haitians prompted by fear of deportation by the U.S. government.
Around 250 asylum seekers are arriving each day in Montreal, the largest city in Canada’s mainly French-speaking Quebec province. Quebec has opened its Olympic Stadium, a former hospital and a school among other places to house people.
Heated tents will accommodate up to 500 people as Canadian border officials process mainly Haitians walking into Canada from the United States.
Nearly 100 soldiers will be in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, across the border from Champlain, New York, to set up the tents and add to temporary facilities already organized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Border Services Agency.
The Canadian Armed Forces were aware of the difficult situation that requires significant resources, said Daniel Le Bouthillier, a spokesman at the Department of National Defence.
The military would have no role in security matters, Le Bouthillier said in emailed statement. “When the site is completed, the military will return to their home base.”
Hundreds of Haitians have crossed into Quebec in recent weeks, spurred partly by false accounts of asylum seekers being able to immediately obtain residency after entering Canada.
“There is an enormous amount of fake information circulating saying that it is easy to come to Canada,” said Marjorie Villefranche, general manager of Maison d‘Haiti, a Montreal community center that assists Haitian immigrants.
“They are hearing that Canada doesn’t deport people.”
The Canadian immigration ministry, on its Facebook page on Aug. 5, discouraged illegal entries and noted that messages posted elsewhere online suggesting that Canada is inviting people to seek refugee status were wrong.
Canadian authorities accepted 50.5 percent of the 410 refugee claims by Haitians heard in 2016, government data showed.
Like the United States, Canada had a deportation ban on Haitians after a 2010 earthquake. More than 50,000 people affected by Haiti’s earthquake have been allowed to remain in the United States under “temporary protected status” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
This year, the department extended their status through next January, but officials said in May that people covered under that status should begin acquiring travel documents to return to Haiti.
Canada’s deportation ban, which was enacted after a 2004 coup and extended after the earthquake, expired in August 2016. Many Haitians who had been living in Canada for years have since raced to get permanent residency on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.
In the first half of 2017, more than 4,300 asylum seekers walked across the U.S. border into Canada. Even before the flow of Haitian asylum seekers Canada was on track to have the most refugee claims in almost a decade.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a tougher stance on immigration with plans to cut legal immigration by 50 percent over 10 years.
Reporting by Allison Lampert; additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Grant McCool