Thousands of asylum seekers have irregularly cross the border at Roxham Road.
With the thousands of asylum seekers irregularly crossing the border at Roxham Road, as well as along the entire Canada-USA line, a new committee has been established in the Haut-Saint-Laurent to welcome migrants and to offer support and help where it can.
The idea to form the committee emerged out of the Haut-Saint-Laurent Social Development Forum, which took place in Franklin last March. Following the Forum, a presentation by Solidarity Without Borders took place where many questions and issues regarding the increasing movement of asylum seekers from the United States into Canada were answered and addressed.
The committee, which includes Celine Ouimet, the Director General for the Municipality of Saint-Chrysostome, Geneviève St-Jacques Thériault, a community organizer for the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Ouest (CISSSMO), Nathalie Collin, the coordinator for the Huntingdon Maison des Jeunes, Rémi Pelletier, the coordinator for the CDC du Haut-Saint-Laurent, and Michel Pilon, who is responsible for Social Pastoral care, Movements and Organisations with the Diocese of Valleyfield, has been meeting regularly since then.
In attempting to define their mission, the committee has been formed to express solidarity and spirit of mutual assistance amongst the community sector and concerned citizens with regard to a reality affecting the region: migrants who cross the border irregularly to apply for asylum. The group has identified four main spheres of action, including providing up to date and pertinent information on migrants (often in collaboration with groups such as Solidarity Without Borders), housing, raising awareness among citizens, and the collection and delivery of much-needed materials and school supplies in conjunction with the ongoing work by all three service points of the local Maison des Jeunes in collecting for the Maison d’Haiti in Montreal.
"These are not dangerous people," says Michel Pilon. "They are simply fleeing difficult situations," he continues, lamenting the incorrect use of the term illegal to describe the irregular nature of their crossing into Canada. "It is not up to us to determine whether they are illegal or not," he adds, suggesting all those who claim asylum upon entering Canada are exercising their legal right to do so, and that the government will have to assess each individual’s case to determine whether they are able to remain in Canada.
For the committee, the goal is to be prepared to welcome those entering via the Haut-Saint-Laurent, as there is little to suggest the flow of migrants will be coming to an end any time soon.