Seeking Refuge Is an Essential Travel: Advocating for the Reopening of Roxham Road

The “Réseau Roxham” has put together some great images challenging the shameful decision by the Trudeau government to shut down the Roxham Road crossing to irregular refugee claimants. If you want to get involved in efforts to challenge this closure, get in touch at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or via the No Borders Media facebook page. Scroll down to check out the entire zine.

I was still in Tijuana, situated on the US-Mexico border, when the pandemic was declared. I was working in a legal aid clinic for migrants seeking asylum in the United States.The global situation was getting worse every day and I finally had to return to Quebec.

I was able to leave Tijuana, a place that represents immobility and confinement for so many others with whom I shared my days.

As I felt the weight of this contrast on the plane, I felt the border I was leaving behind––the one that blocks the “South” from the “North”––extend itself beneath me.

It is impossible to claim asylum in Canada without touching its soil. And to fly to Canada, you need money, and more importantly, you need a visitor’s permit, which is very difficult to get for most people seeking refuge.

Some people from wealthier social classes can fly to the United States and then cross into Canada by land. But for many others, reaching Canada involves crossing irregularly into the United States, for example through the Sonora Desert, and then traveling through the entire country clandestinely up to Roxham Road, which is located in Lacolle, less than an hour from Montreal. These journeys are extremely dangerous, sometimes deadly.

The United States acts as a buffer that absorbs the flow of migrants: Canada washes its hands of it. A huge country serves as its border. The brigades of U.S. immigration officers hunt, deport, torture, and separate families, blockmigrants from getting to Canada. Hypocritically, the Canadian state deplores the actions of our neighbours while making absolutely no effort to offer legal alternatives––alternatives that could save lives.

As I was leaving the US-Mexico border, I was heading towards another border, which acted as an extension of the same violence.

The next day, reading the news, I learned that Canada was going to close its borders to refugees on March 20 as an “emergency measure” in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, despite the enormous difficulties that prevent migrants from reaching Canada and keep them prisoner in Mexico or in the United States, some 60 people a day cross at Roxham Road.

Migrants arriving at the Canadian border will be reported to US immigration officers. Some will be at risk of being imprisoned in inhumane conditions and then deported to their countries of origin, where they would be in grave danger.

It is entirely possible to test refugees and supervise their quarantine. The most effective states so far are not the most restrictive, but the ones who target the virusbetter. The Canadian state is using the health crisis to suspend the human rights of this vulnerable population. It is clear that these choices are based on a fear of the Other and not on public health.

Closing borders as a preventive health measure does not take into account the specific situation of migrants who cannot simply fly back to their country of origin. It is unfair to treat refugees in the same way as travellers.

As activist Jaggi Singh warns, there is no indication that the special measures taken will be withdrawn once the crisis is over. We need to demand the reopening of the Roxham Road now, without waiting for the pandemic to “pass”: there is no good health reason to keep migrants from seeking refuge.

It is unacceptable that seeking refuge is not considered an “essential displacement.” We must reject this twisted and xenophobic rhetoric.

Afterword: On April 22nd, Canada started again to accept some asylum seekers at their border (including those who have family members in Canada, those who are apatrid or stateless and unaccompanied minors), but as of May 15, 2020 Roxham Road is still closed.

Download the entire Seeking Refuge Zine in PDF format here