A real race against time began south of the US border on Friday. For dozens of individuals and families seeking refuge in Canada, there were only a few hours left to cross Roxham Road before this now famous road was closed to them. And some missed their chance.
“Stop. Don’t cross. Entering Canada here is illegal”: A new sign appeared at midnight tapping on Roxham Road, on the border between New York State, United States, and Montérégie, Quebec. And in the hours leading up to it, dozens of people rushed to the entry point to try their chance – the last – to get through.
They came from Congo, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Venezuela, Iraq, Colombia, Sri Lanka or Botswana. A few minutes before closing, they were at least thirty to have passed the cape and to wait to enter the buildings managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Some had jumped into a taxi hours away to make sure they got there in time. Others, exhausted by their long crossing of the Americas, did not know that they were among the last to be able to use this entry point.
This family was intercepted by the RCMP in the middle of the night and in the bitter cold, in front of numerous journalists.
Under the new agreement between the United States and Canada, the details of which were made official on Friday, the Safe Third Country Agreement will now apply to all land border entry points between the two countries. . People trying to enter Canada are now arrested and can be sent back to the United States. Certain exceptions apply, in particular for people who have family in Canada or for unaccompanied minors.
The revised agreement came into effect at midnight one night from Friday to Saturday, authorities announced the same morning.
“It’s far too short notice,” protested Terry Provost, an American driver who transports migrants, sometimes for free, from Plattsburgh, about thirty kilometers away. “It’s going to create chaos,” he fears. People will try to sneak in. I feel sorry for the little kids. »
Arriving at the border around 10:30 p.m. Friday evening, Pamela Haiala, originally from Congo, completed a journey of more than a year from Brazil to Canada. Why be away from his country of origin? “Political issues,” she explained.
With a lump in her throat, she observed the few buildings lit by powerful lamps managed by the Canadian authorities. A little later, she asked for asylum there, as nearly 40,000 people did in 2022. “I love Canada”, she tried to sum up, before her passage.
As the evening progressed on Friday, the atmosphere became more and more frenetic on Roxham Road, on the American side. In a ballet of taxis, asylum seekers rushed, suitcases on wheels, backpacks and children with them.
Some of them arrived not realizing that they were hours away from no longer being able to enter the country of the maple leaf. This was the case of Mohamed Yusef Niazi, accompanied by his wife Taiba Nuri and their 7-month-old baby, Sahaba. The little family fled from Afghanistan to Brazil in 2021 before crossing the entire continent, Mr. Niazi said in broken English.
“I chose Canada because it’s a good country,” Thujinthan also explained. Originally from Sri Lanka, this young man from the Tamil minority said he fled his country for fear of persecution. He entered the United States through the Mexican border. Little did he know that irregular entry into Canada would soon be banned.
Others, like this Venezuelan man who preferred to conceal his identity so as not to endanger his family, rushed in, well aware of the imminent closure of the border. ” It’s a miracle ! he exclaimed, just before crossing over to the Canadian side.
Around the Plattsburgh bus station, the surprise was big on Friday. Traders in the area are now used to seeing migrants arrive, who feed themselves and sometimes use the motels on site.
The announcement of the overhaul of the Safe Third Country Agreement, however, threw sand into the well-oiled gears of the drivers who transport people from Plattsburgh to the Roxham road, several drivers confirmed to La Presse. “For me, it’s not the end of the world, because I’m retired, but there are others who don’t have any other income,” said local taxi driver Tom. for several years.
“I get calls from all over the world, also launched another driver, Sergio, after dropping off a few people at the border. People are not waiting for the bus now, they come directly by vehicle. »
But not everyone is worried about the closure of this irregular point of entry with Canada. “I’m so happy,” said Melissa Beshaw, who lives a stone’s throw from the border on the small dirt road. “I will finally be able to have peace. »