Roxham Rd & Why It Matters

Refugees are in the news with the federal government’s March 24 announcement that it was closing the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Rd in Quebec. 

To help you understand the issues behind the headlines, and to mark Refugee Rights Day on Tuesday, April 4, we have compiled this brief FAQ about the Safe Third Country Agreement, Roxham Rd., why it matters and what you can do about it. 

Please read this article and share it with friends to help spread the facts about Canada’s refugee claimant policies.

What is the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)?

The STCA is a deal between the governments of Canada and the United States from 2004 that declares both countries are safe for refugees, so anyone seeking refugee protection in North America must make a formal request in the first safe country they arrive in (with some important exceptions).This means that if someone arrives at a Canadian border crossing via the United States, they will be turned away because they are deemed to already be in a safe country (USA), unless they meet the criteria for an exception

In order to avoid being sent back to the US, thousands of people from dozens of countries have crossed “irregularly,” meaning at some point between official border posts. 

What’s wrong with the STCA?

The United States is not safe for all refugees. In 2021 the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the STCA is unconstitutional. It accepted evidence that claimants turned back to the US are immediately and automatically imprisoned by U.S. authoritiesSome have been subjected to solitary confinement, and other inhumane treatment.” That decision was later overturned and is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. The STCA also leads to people choosing riskier crossings and makes them more vulnerable to human trafficking.

What is Roxham Rd?

Until March 25, the Canadian government allowed people to enter Canada via Roxham Rd, which connects Quebec with New York State. They could then file a refugee claim or request for protection. Last year, almost 40,000 people seeking asylum in Canada entered the country through Roxham Rd, representing roughly 42% of refugee claims made in 2022. Others have made risky crossings in Manitoba and British Columbia. Generally, the acceptance rate for refugee claims in Canada is currently near 60%, and tens of thousands of successful claimants have gone on to live, work and contribute to their communities in Canada and eventually become citizens.

What just changed? 

On March 24, Canada and the United States announced the expansion of the STCA to apply to anywhere on the Canada-US border. The new rules seem to suggest that anyone who files a refugee claim within 14 days of crossing irregularly will be returned to the US. The new rules came into effect that same night.

Why does any of this matter? 

The UNHCR estimates that 100 million people were forcibly displaced around the world last year. Canada has legal obligations to asylum seekers as part of the Refugee ConventionThe new rules will not stop refugees from coming, but they will lead many of them to choose more dangerous routes and possibly go into hiding before making their claim, making them more vulnerable to abuse. We have already seen people die in their effort to cross this border, both trying to enter Canada and trying to enter the US, as recently as this past weekend.  

The STCA measures simply don’t make sense. The right to make a refugee claim is protected under international law, and the majority of claimants in Canada are found to have legitimate claims and go on to become permanent residents and part of Canadian society.

What can I do? 

Here’s a list of ways you can get engaged and help make a difference for people seeking safety.

✅ Call or write to your federal member of Parliament to let them know you disagree with the expansion of the STCA. 

✅ Learn more about the issue by following the links above and below, and share this post in your networks.  

✅ Join or donate to grassroots movements taking action to support refugee claimants.

✅ Donate to organizations providing community and stability to refugee claimants arriving in Ottawa

✅ Sign up for the Refugee 613 mailing list to stay up to date on refugee issues in Ottawa and beyond.

✅ Donate to Refugee 613 to support our communications and mobilizing work in support of refugee welcome.