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Manitoba premier seeks co-ordination with feds to deal with refugee surge

Premiers to talk refugees this week

WINNIPEG — The federal and provincial governments need to co-ordinate their approach to the growing number of asylum-seekers crossing the border because all signs from the United States suggest the issue is not going away, says Manitoba's premier.

"With the United States approach, and the United States new administration's approach on issues related to refugees — and to immigration generally — there are conditions that would lead, I think, most people to conclude this will be an ongoing challenge," Brian Pallister said Tuesday.

"We have a letter going out with specific issues that we would like to see the federal government co-operatively address, and I have a call lined up later this week with other premiers to discuss the issue and co-ordinate our approaches in respect of where we go from here."

Pallister's office later clarified that his calls with other premiers will be one-by-one and not a conference call.

The number of people fleeing the United States, largely from African countries originally, has jumped in recent weeks, following planned crackdowns on immigration in the U.S. The refugees have been crossing fields and ditches near border communities such as Emerson-Franklin, Man. and Hemmingford, Que.

The tactic is a way to get around the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires anyone who has already applied for refugee status in the U.S. to be turned away at an official border crossing in Canada. If a person crosses somewhere else and gets apprehended on Canadian soil, they can apply as a refugee and the case is heard by Canadian authorities.

Some immigration lawyers and politicians want Canada to change the agreement so that people can turn themselves in at official border crossings and still get their refugee claim heard.

The reeve of Emerson-Franklin, Greg Janzen, said Tuesday the idea would increase safety for his community's residents and for the refugees, who have been making long crossings on foot in the dead of winter.

"I would like to see something changed and get some order to this chaos that's going on," Janzen said.

"Let them walk up to the port of entry. Will that bring more people? Yes. But at least it will be in an organized manner."

Pallister was non-committal on the issue. He said there are arguments for and against changing the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

In Ottawa, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said he sees no need to change the agreement, because the United States was still living up to its international obligations in dealing with asylum-seekers.

"As far as we're concerned, someone in the United States can still make a credible asylum claim through their system," Hussen told reporters.

Pallister would not specify what he is seeking from the federal government. He said he is putting those details in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"I think we have to have the dialogue (first) and we should endeavour to do that co-operatively with the federal government."

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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