Canada scrambles to find lodging for Haitians fleeing the US

Montreal (AFP) –


Officials in Canada scrambled Thursday to find enough cots and empty beds to accommodate hundreds of mostly Haitian asylum seekers from the United States, even putting Montreal's famed Olympic stadium to use as a makeshift dormitory and welcome center.

Authorities said 500 migrants turned up Tuesday, traversing a border crossing at the southern Quebec town of Lacolle. Another 300 people turned up on Wednesday, further taxing already overwhelmed immigration facilities.

On average, "we've gone from 50 (asylum) requests per day to 150. We're overflowing," Quebec's Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Kathleen Weil said, sounding somewhat stressed.

Nevertheless, she assured listeners on local Quebec radio that the government was coping and was working with federal authorities to get the situation under control.

Authorities said asylum seekers have been crossing the border into Canada since Donald Trump was elected president in the United States, and began making good on his campaign pledges on immigration.

The United States granted Temporary Protection Status (TPS) to an estimated 60,000 Haitian nationals after the January 2010 earthquake which killed more than 200,000 people.

With many of those visas set to expire in January, increasing numbers of migrants have been arriving in Canada, fearful the Trump administration could send them packing.

Warm, hospital weather, and an approaching visa deadline, are believed to be responsible for a huge increase in arrivals.

Many Haitians in the United States have settled on Quebec and especially, Montreal, home to one of the largest Haitian communities in the world.

"Welcome to Quebec" read the sign a woman from Montreal's Haitian community waved furiously, as she stood behind a barricade separating from the newly arrived migrants, who had just spent their first night in the Olympic stadium.

Authorities have been housing the migrants in university dorms and hotels, but are quickly running out of beds. Dozens of cots were placed in the corridors of Montreal's Olympic Stadium, the main venue for the 1976 Games, to try to make up the shortfall.

"We are in control of the situation," said Quebec's Health Minister Lucie Charlebois, who said officials had tapped every hotel, motel, dorm room and YMCA for emergency lodging.

Officials said they are worried about the academic year fast approaching, when the college dorms that have provided housing for hundreds will no longer be available.