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Border Runners: The final stop on the refugee railroad

Last Updated Mar 29, 2017 at 1:51 pm EDT

A sleepy town on the border of the United States and Canada has become a beacon, the new North Star, in the so-called Underground Refugee Railroad. An increasing number of asylum seekers are making the decision to literally dash across the border into Canada, a response, some believe, to the U.S. crackdown on illegal immigrants.

CityNews reporter Avery Haines is on assignment, travelling to the community of Plattsburgh, New York, after a young woman in Toronto shared this story with CityNews viewers last month.

All of Haines’ coverage can been on Facebook Live. Like the CityNews page to receive updates.

A 21-year-old Eritrean national, who we are calling Ann, began her journey in Saudi Arabia, where her mother scraped together money to get her to the U.S. Ann flew to Washington, DC, where she was quietly told by others in the same situation that in order to seek asylum in Canada she would need to make her way to Plattsburgh. Then, she was told, it’s a run across the border.

A map her journey can be seen below:

refugee railroad map

Ann and others tell stories of being gouged by taxi drivers, who charged passengers hundreds of dollars to travel just a few kilometres. Some, like Ann, were left in the middle of the road, nowhere near the border. There have been other reports of people-smugglers charging thousands of dollars to get to the border.

Those, like Ann, who cross the border on foot are called the Roxham Road Refugees, named after the road that skirts Champlain, New York and then turns into Chemin Roxham on the Quebec side of the border. Hundreds of people have illegally crossed here, traversing a small ditch, and, when they step into Canada, they are immediately arrested by the RCMP. Once they undergo security checks, they are allowed to submit a claim for asylum and are not held in detention until that claim is heard.

Government data shows in the first two months of this year, 1,134 asylum seekers crossed the Canadian border illegally, most of them into Quebec. That represents almost half the number who were intercepted in all of last year. Canadians are deeply divided by the asylum seekers who choose to enter Canada this way. A recent Ipsos poll finds nearly half of all Canadians believe those who do so, should be deported.

Haines will fly to Montreal and drive into New York, to hear the stories of cab drivers, motel workers, U.S. border patrol, and the asylum seekers who may right now be planning their dash for the border.

Related stories:

Success rates: Why some refugee claimants may have better odds in Canada
Asylum seekers wait for chance to come to Canada at Buffalo refugee centre
Syrian refugee says his family proves how Canadian openness pays dividends