‘Close to the limit’: Canada turns Olympic Stadium into shelter as refugees pour in from its southern border

A surge of asylum seekers from the U.S. has forced Canada to open the Olympic Stadium in Montreal as a temporary refugee welcome center.

Many of the new wave of refugees coming to Quebec are Haitians fleeing the US in fear of President Trump’s immigration crackdown,  CBC News reported.

Francine Dupuis, spokesperson for PRAIDA, the provincial government organization which helps newly arrived asylum seekers, admitted they have “never seen this before.”

“It’s really quite a bit more intense than what we’re used to,” she said.

The anticipated end of protective status they were granted when they sought US refuge following the 2010 earthquake has led to the surge of Haitian migrants entering Canada. Deportations of nearly 60,000 people in the US under the Trump administration could take place by January 2018, according to CBC.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” a woman interviewed at Roxham Road said Wednesday. The location is a key crossing point for illegal entry into Quebec.

“We checked online and we saw that Canada was going to welcome Haitians, and that’s why we come here,” she said.

“They’ve been panicking,” Marjorie Villefranche, the director general of the Maison d’Haïti, said, telling the Montreal Gazette she began to hear from Haitian families in New York and Florida back in May when Trump threatened to remove the Haitians’ temporary protected status.

“They’re vulnerable people who do not want to return to Haiti because of how difficult a situation it would be for them,” Villefranche said.

The influx of refugees has overwhelmed PRAIDA, which has typically worked with the Montreal YMCA to provide asylum seekers with temporary housing. The surge in newcomers forced the organization to open several new locations, including Olympic Stadium where between 100 and 450 cots have been set up.

The landmark stadium, locally called the Big O, was built in the early 1970’s for the 1976 Summer Olympics and has been the home of the Montreal Expos until 2004 when the team left the city.

About 1,174 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec in July, according to Dupuis, a number far greater than the 180 people helped by PRAIDA  in July 2016.

Though the asylum seekers have not been given refugee status yet, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre issued a welcome message on Twitter.

“You can count on our full co-operation,” he wrote.

After a threat on his life and that of his family, Jean Dorméus fled Haiti to Mexico, then San Diego where he asked for asylum. He spent six months in Pennsylvania but left for Canada when he was told he could be deported under Trump’s new immigration policies.

“It’s not good for us there now,” he told the Gazette. “It’s not safe in the U.S., and I can’t go back to Haiti.”

“I don’t think anybody has the answers,” Dupuis said. “Nobody knows when it’s going to stop. At one point, I think the government will have to make a decision — do we continue to receive them, and if we do, where are the resources going to come from?”

A press conference was scheduled by provincial government officials to address the situation, the Montreal Gazette reported.

“It’s unheard of. In 30 years, I’ve never seen this kind of volume or intensity,” Dupuis said. “We’re doing our best, but obviously there’s going to be a limit. And we’re close to that limit.”

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