(AFP) – For exhausted migrants, a small stretch of snow-covered road is the last step in a long journey to a new life in Canada. Some drag heavy suitcases, others carry all their worldly belongings in small plastic bags.
In a hurry to get into their new country, Haitians, Venezuelans, Colombians and Turks hasten their pace as they step out of a car with their heads down to finally cross the last border of their journey: one separating Canada and the United States, between New York state and Montreal.
“Stop! Passing here is illegal, if you do you will be arrested,” a Canadian police officer repeats to migrants who arrive in clusters throughout the day and night at what is known as the Roxham Road crossing point.
Among the latest ones to arrive under a heavy snowfall, some don’t have winter coats or boots, only light clothes and sneakers. Mothers carrying children or stuffed animals struggle to push strollers through the deep snow.
Only the children are smiling, looking fascinated to see snow for the first time.
A small backpack flung over his shoulder, Makenzy Dorgeville says he is very happy to have finally arrived in Canada after fleeing violence in Haiti and spending years on the road. He describes his trip as an obstacle course, listing 10 countries he crossed in South and Central America to eventually get here.
The 40-year-old with a slight build knows that even if his asylum bid is rejected, Canada does not deport Haitians.
As they cross the border, NGO volunteers give migrants coats, gloves and hats as well as words of encouragement. “We just want them to know that there’s people who support the journey that they’re going through in their search to find a place to live in safety,” says Bridges Not Borders volunteer Frances Ravensbergen.
After being checked and registered by police, the migrants are taken to the nearest official border post to file an asylum claim — between 50 and 60 percent of applications are approved.
– Growing insecurity –
After a few months, generally they obtain a work permit and children go to school. Migrants become eligible for health care and other social benefits and are put up in refugee centers or hotels paid for by the government while their application is being processed.
Since pandemic restrictions were lifted and the borders reopened, migratory flows have intensified all over the world.
Roxham Road is now a known crossing point and social media are full of videos explaining how to get there, how much it costs to get from the nearest bus station in Plattsburgh, New York to the border.
In 2022, nearly 40,000 people arrived in Canada by this route, twice as many as in 2017, which was the previous record year, according to Canadian immigration data. And they’ve been undeterred even by the bone-chilling cold of Canadian winters, with more than 5,000 arriving in January alone.
This irregular migration is somewhat new for Canada, which is difficult to reach due to its relative geographic isolation and very strict visa policy.