OTTAWA – The number of people seeking asylum in Canada from Mexico continues to rise.
New figures from the Immigration and Refugee Board show that March recorded the highest number yet of new claims in 2017 – 110, up from 85 in February and 71 in January, for a total of 266 so far this year.
In all of 2016, there were just 241, statistics from the IRB show.
Last December, the Liberal government lifted a requirement for Mexicans to obtain a visa before travelling to Canada and an increase in claims was forecast.
The volume of asylum seekers from Mexico had been the reason the previous government begin to require visas in 2009, but the move caused diplomatic bad blood between the two countries.
The federal Liberals had promised to remove the requirement and doing so was given new impetus given the impending renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Still, in lifting the visa, Canada told the Mexican government that if asylum claims reached a certain level, the visa could be reinstated.
That figure has never been publicly released, but the current claim level is believed to be well below the threshold.
In 2008, the year before the visa was introduced, there were 9,000 claims lodged, making up nearly a quarter of all claims filed that year.
Claims plummeted the next year and continued to drop; in the first three months of 2016, 11 claims filed in January, 4 in February and 11 in March.
The cost of lifting the visas has been pegged at $261.9 million over 10 years, after the expectation of increased tourism and travel dollars from Mexicans is factored in.
Flights between the two countries have increased, though some immigration service providers point out those increases lead to the corresponding increase in asylum claims – it is easier to get to Canada from Mexico.
Statistics from British Columbia show that in December 2016 and January and February 2017 there were 29 refugee claimants from Mexico compared to 30 who arrived in the 12-month period from December 2015 to November 2016.
The majority of the newcomers claimed asylum at the Vancouver airport.