The Olympic Stadium in Montreal has been turned into a makeshift home for the thousands of refugees who’ve crossed into Canada in recent times — the thousands of migrants who’ve actually entered from the United States.
And all the Canadians go: Thanks America — so glad we’re getting all your refugees.
The sight is certainly one that’s never before been seen in Canada.
A temporary welcome centre has been opened at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal to house a new wave of asylum seekers coming from the United States to Quebec, many of them Haitians.
“We’ve never seen this before,” said Francine Dupuis, spokesperson for PRAIDA, the provincial government organization that helps claimants in their first months.
“It’s really quite a bit more intense than what we’re used to.”
On Wednesday, asylum seekers were taken to the Olympic Stadium by bus. Among them were children and pregnant women.
In the past, PRAIDA has worked with a Montreal YMCA to temporarily provide newcomers with housing and support, but the recent surge of Haitians crossing the border from the United States has strained PRAIDA’s existing resources and forced it to open several new centres, including one at the Olympic Stadium.
Between 100 and 450 cots have been set up in the Olympic Stadium. The asylum seekers will be housed in the area with concession stands just on the border of the actual arena. It’s a windowless, concrete hallway.
A spokesperson for Olympic Park said the request to use the stadium came on Friday.
“We were quick to say, ‘OK, how much space do we need?'” Cédric Essminimy said. “And in 24 hours, everything was set.”
The Olympic Stadium is one of Montreal’s most well-known landmarks. It was built in the early 1970s as a venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Known locally as the Big O, it was home to the Montreal Expos until the team left the city in 2004.
Dozens of other asylum seekers who crossed illegally into Quebec are still being held by the Canada Border Services Agency at the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing south of Montreal.
A number of tents and temporary shelters have been set up there to accommodate the asylum seekers.
Though official numbers have not been released by the federal government, Dupuis estimates 1,174 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec in July. In comparison, PRAIDA helped 180 people in July 2016.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw the protective status of Haitians who took refuge in the country following the 2010 earthquake.
Up to 58,000 people could face deportation back to Haiti in January 2018.
A woman interviewed Wednesday at Roxham Road, a key point of entry for asylum seekers crossing illegally into Quebec, said she left the U.S. because she was scared.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said.
“So we checked online and we saw that Canada was going to welcome Haitians, and that’s why we come here.”
One man who spoke to reporters from the Olympic Stadium identified himself as Haitian and said he arrived in Canada about a week ago.
“It feels really good to be in Canada because it’s so calm,” he said in French.
PRAIDA’s Dupuis said Montreal’s large Haitian community is a reason why many Haitians are crossing the border into Quebec.
“Obviously, there is a stronger attraction to coming to Quebec for Haitians than in other provinces,” she said.
“They have the help of their community to get settled.”