Migrant bodies in St. Lawrence ‘heartbreaking’ but ‘predictable,’ advocate says
On Thursday afternoon, the bodies of six people, including a child, were found in the St. Lawrence River. A day later, two more bodies were discovered.
The “heartbreaking” situation highlights deeper border control issues between Canada and the U.S. according to migrant advocate Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“The question we need to ask is, why are people fleeing Canada to go to the United States?” Hussan told CTV New Channel on Saturday. “Why are migrants not able to just live here with justice and dignity and equality?”
The people found in the river were part of two families, one of Romanian descent and the other of Indian origin. Police said Friday they were likely trying to enter the U.S. illegally. The bodies, which haven’t been officially identified, were found in Tsi Snaihne (Snye) in Akwesasne, a Mohawk territory that straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Hussan says people likely flee illegally across the border because they face difficulties accessing permanent residency in Canada, among other things.
“Prime Minister Trudeau in December 2021 at the start of this current mandate, promised permanent resident status for migrant students and workers and undocumented people,” Hussan said. “Because he knows that that is the only way to ensure equal rights, 15 months later, we have not seen an inclusive regularization program.”
In the last three months, two other migrants died while attempting to cross illegally from Canada into the U.S., the bodies found in the St. Lawrence River are “just the latest” tragedies, according to Hussan.
He adds migrants will be less likely to flee if a path to permanent residency is created.
“People are being abused at work, exploited by landlords, separated from their families, denied health care, and a few of them are making this dangerous journey to the U.S. and are dying,” he said.
Hussan is fearful the shocking news of migrant deaths will become normalized.
“What I’m scared of is that this will turn from news into current affairs,” he said.
Recently, the U.S. and Canada agreed to end a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement which means asylum seekers will be turned away at irregular border crossings like at Roxham Road in Quebec. Federal figures show more than 39,000 people claimed asylum after crossing into Canada by land in 2022, with most coming through Quebec.
The U.S. agreed to extend the conditions across 8,900 kilometres of border while Canada, in exchange, will welcome an additional 15,000 migrants over the next year.
To hear the full interview with Hussan, click the video at the top of this article.