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Asylum-seekers in New York pause before they flee the US for Canada

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CHAMPLAIN, NY — The migrants who manage to reach the very end of Roxham Road have often made grueling journeys from countries thousands of miles away, fleeing poverty, violence, or danger back home, all to seek a new life in Canada.

But sometimes, just feet from their destination, they pause. Sometimes it’s for minutes or hours — and sometimes they turn back altogether.

On one cold, October evening, INSIDER observed a Nigerian asylum-seeker approach the border hesitantly, dragging his heavy, black luggage toward the ditch he wanted to cross.

Stephen, a taxi driver, wishes a Nigerian migrant good luck, before urging him across the border.
Marisa Palmer/INSIDER

Floodlights from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s compound on the Canadian side of the border lit up the road, casting a long shadow behind him.

The migrant froze, his shoulders quaking.

“Gaba! Gaba! Gaba!” shouted the taxi driver who had driven him up the road. The words meant, “Go! Go! Go!” in the Nigerian language of Igbo.

After several minutes passed, the migrant took a deep breath, and crossed into Canada.

‘They’re shocked’

The dead end at Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, features a number of signs warning in English and French not to cross the border illegally.
INSIDER/Michelle Mark

In the last two years, nearly 40,000 migrants have entered Canada illegally at locations like Roxham Road, many of them seeking safety they believe is out of reach in the US.

Read more: THE OTHER BORDER ‘CRISIS’: While America is fixated on Mexico and the wall, thousands of migrants are fleeing for Canada in a dramatically different scene

Due to a legal pact known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, migrants aren’t officially supposed to request asylum in Canada if they’ve already traveled through the US — they’re told to claim asylum from the first “safe country” they arrive in.

The US is considered a safe country, at least by Canada’s definition, so migrants who come to Canada via the US are turned away at the ports of entry and told to seek asylum in America.

But a well-known loophole allows migrants to request asylum if they reach Canadian soil without passing through a port of entry from the US. So the migrants have been crossing illegally, surrendering to arrest, and requesting asylum.

A family of asylum-seekers pause before crossing the US-Canada border.
Marisa Palmer/INSIDER

Janet McFetridge, the deputy mayor of the town of Champlain, has made a habit of visiting Roxham Road each day, handing out hats, scarves, and other winter wear to the migrants she sees trying to cross.

McFetridge says it’s common for migrants like the Nigerian asylum-seeker to pause before they cross. They’re not necessarily expecting to be arrested, she said, though it’s standard procedure for the Canadians.

“Some people who arrive do seem very stunned when they see that they’re going to be arrested,” she said. “There are some people who arrive, and when they’re told they’re going to be arrested, they stand, they’re shocked and they can’t decide what to do.”

McFetridge said she’s seen some people turn around entirely, and walk back down Roxham Road.

“It does happen, but it’s happening less,” she said. “They’re much more informed now.”

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