More Tragic Deaths Show Urgent Need to End Safe Third Country Agreement
On March 30, eight people from two families died while attempting to transit from Canada into the U.S. across the St. Lawrence River in Akwesasne Mohawk territory. Four of them are said to be originally from India. The other four are said to be a family originally from Romania, including two toddlers, whose asylum claim in Canada had been turned down. A local resident who police consider a “person of interest” in the matter has yet to be located.
These eight deaths come just days after the Roxham Road border crossing between Quebec and New York State was closed at midnight on March 25, following an agreement signed by the U.S. and Canada to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).
According to the legal framework giving rise to STCA, anyone who makes a refugee claim in Canada can have their claim rejected and can be deported to a “safe third country” if the government can show that the claimant, while in transit from their home country, passed through a country where it was safe to make a refugee claim. This is refugee law. So if somebody crosses into Canada from the U.S. and makes a refugee claim here, the STCA bans them from arguing that the U.S. was not a safe country in which to make a refugee claim. They can summarily be deported to the U.S., regardless of any facts, because the U.S. is defined as a “safe third country.” The converse applies in the U.S. Both governments are happy to have this self-serving, chauvinist position incorporated into an international agreement for propaganda purposes, and so they can continue their practice of keeping migrants in a precarious situation where they are subject to ruthless abuse and driven into the ranks of desperate unemployed workers.
This case shows that such measures have tragic consequences for all those seeking to transit the U.S.-Canada border at unofficial crossing points, whether or not they are seeking asylum. It could reasonably be assumed that had these eight people simply been able to cross by foot into the U.S. at Roxham Road or other “irregular crossings,” their deaths could have been prevented.
It shows that measures such as the STCA do not address the conditions that drive people to migrate and cross borders in search of a livelihood and safe living and working conditions for themselves and their families, and that the tightening of the border through the extended measures of the STCA will only lead to more tragedies.
The Safe Third Country Agreement must be ended now.