Last year, nearly 40,000 migrants crossed into Canada to seek asylum at an unofficial border at the end of a remote rural highway in upstate New York.

This is a record number. Many did so in the belief that this country will give them a better reception than the United States. But can Canada handle this influx?

On a snowy winter’s day, the Roxham Road is cold and quiet. The silence is broken by the sound of wheels approaching the end of the road, or footsteps in the snow.

Almost Every day 150 migrants arrive here, with the intention of setting foot in Canada. Many started their journey as far away as Brazil, and this highway in upstate New York is the home stretch.

The roxham away it is not an official border point. There are no border agents at the end of the tour, only police officers who arrest those crossing.

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But it has become known as an accessible entry point to Canada from the US to apply for asylum.

Last year, the largest number of migrants entered Canada through this crossing, attracted by the country’s reputation for helping people fleeing conflict and war.

The influx of migrants has led to growing frustration on both sides of the border, and concerns about highway safety have increased, raising questions about what the future holds for those making the journey.

Surprise for Canada

The Roxham road aroused national attention 2017 when a large number of migrants started crossing there.

Some believe its sudden popularity was due to the fear of being deported from the US under the Trump administration. Others point to a tweet from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which read: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome”.

The influx of migrants surprised Canadian authorities. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium was briefly converted into a hostel for newcomers. The federal government tried to turn the tide with warnings that arrival in Canada did not automatically mean permission to stay.

After crossing the border, immigrants are stopped by the police.

Under the emergency measures taken by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic, the route was closed, but the demand for a safe haven has never subsided.

Thousands of asylum seekers returned when those measures were lifted 16 months ago.

a friendlier country

Many come true Haiti, a country that has been hit by political and gang violence in recent months. There has also been an increase in people coming from Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Columbiaor from places as far away as Afghanistan.

At the same time, the Biden administration has extended some of the policies passed by the Trump administration during the pandemic, such as the Title 42, a rule that allows border agents to refuse migrants on the grounds that they could spread the covid-19 virus.

These measures have been used to block the overland entry of some migrants at the US-Mexico border.

Migrants who spoke to the BBC in Quebec, the province in which Montreal is located, said they are seeing more and more US as a non-viable country for refugees, where asylum applications can take years to process and where they feel unwelcome.

Joshua, a migrant from Venezuela, will have to wait until 2024 for his work permit. Photo: ELOISE ALANNA/BBC

Joshua arrived in Montreal two days after Christmas and is now sharing a rented apartment with other migrants as he waits for his asylum application to be processed.

Originally from Venezuela, he had lived in exile in Chile for five years without travel documents when he decided to start his journey to Canada.

“Other countries are not as friendly to irregular migrants,” Joshua tells the BBC (his name has been changed to protect his identity).

But Canada, he says, has welcomed him.

Agreement between USA and Canada

Behind the arrival of migrants is an almost two-decade-old agreement between the US and Canada that requires migrants to seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive at.

A migrant arriving from the US is turned away at the Canadian border, but not at Roxham Road, as it is an unofficial crossing (this creates a legal loophole).

Trudeau rejected calls to close the crossing. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Trudeau rejected calls to close the border crossing, saying it would be pointless given the thousands of miles of undefended border with the US and migrants trying to cross dangerously elsewhere.

Instead, he has focused on renegotiating the deal, a topic he hopes to discuss with Joe Biden when he visits Canada this week.

However, the prime minister is under pressure to take action as the arrival of new migrants increases the influx taxation of social services especially in Quebec, where many of the migrants remain behind.

Quebec Premier François Legault described the situation in the province unsustainablesaying that social services were “pushed to the limit” and that some immigrants are left homeless as a result.


“It is becoming increasingly difficult to receive asylum seekers in a dignified manner,” he said in February.


Migrants also face a growing backlog of asylum applications, which has risen from 56,300 in January 2022 to nearly 71,000 in December, a 26% increase.

Applications can now take up to two years to process. About 28% of all orders were rejected last year, so success is not guaranteed.

there are also long waiting for work permits.

It used to take a week for a new asylum seeker to receive a citizen service number. Now waiting for an ID appointment takes about two years, says Maryse Poisson, who works at the Welcome Center, an organization that assists newcomers in Montreal.

As a result, many migrants find it difficult to support themselves financially, and some have had to turn to food banks and receive other social assistance while they wait.

“We are really concerned about the most vulnerable, those who have experienced trauma, those who have many language barriers. They don’t get the help they need,” says Poisson.

end dream

US border agents have noticed an increase in the number of people returning from Canada. In January, the US Border Patrol arrested 367 people trying to cross from north to south, more than the number of such crossings in the past 12 years combined.

Since then, Republican lawmakers have been talking about a “crisis” in the making on the northern border.


Some who return do so out of frustration at not being able to find work in Canada, or to reunite with family, say people who work with asylum seekers in Montreal.

Despite mounting challenges in Canada, migrants continue to cross the Roxham Highway in record numbers, and the harsh Canadian winter doesn’t seem to slow them down.

On the US side of the border, taxi drivers Terry Provost and Tyler Tambini say they often pick people up from the Plattsburgh bus station without charging them, as some migrants run out of money when they reach the end of the journey.

Once the migrants cross, they are met by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who warn them that if they cross, they will be arrested.

Tyler Tambini is one of the few taxi drivers in New York State who sometimes takes migrants to Roxham Road for free. Photo: ELOISE ALANNA/BBC

Since 2017, the Canadian side of the border has turned into a small police complex, with areas where border crossers are processed and buses waiting to take newcomers to nearby hotels.

Provost says he sees people hesitating before taking the final step, not knowing what awaits them on the other side.

But for migrants like Joshua, Canada is the last safe place on the road.

“The American dream died many years ago,” he told the BBC. “My new home is Montreal. The only house I have.”