Canadian aid workers have converted a portion of Montreal's Olympic Stadium into a temporary shelter for hundreds of asylum seekers leaving the U.S.
Provincial aid workers in Quebec created the new shelter due to an unusually large influx of asylum seekers, most of them Haitian, who have illegally crossed into Canada from the U.S. over the past several months, according to the CBC.
"We've never seen this before," Francine Dupuis, spokesperson for PRAIDA, the Quebec government organization responsible for aiding those claiming refugee status, told the CBC on Wednesday. "It's really quite a bit more intense than what we are used to."
Workers set up between 100 and 450 cots in the stadium's concession area, just outside the main arena. PRAIDA historically had used a Montreal YMCA as temporary shelter for the migrants, but the new surge has overloaded current capacity. Dupuis noted that approximately 1,200 people crossed from the U.S. in July alone, while her organization helped only 180 in July 2016. More than 3,300 entered entered Quebec between January and June, according to the BBC.
The huge migration is the result of the possible deportations of protected Haitians who fled to the U.S. after an earthquake rocked their country in 2010, killing 150,000. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director James McCament recommended President Trump end the protected status of the Haitians in May and instead implement a six-month transition period for people to return home. As many as 58,000 people could be deported back to Haiti in January 2018 as a result.
Olympic Stadium was built in the early 1970s to serve as a venue for the 1976 Summer Olympic games. Known locally as the "Big O," it has since become a key Montreal landmark and housed the Montreal Expos baseball team until 2004. The stadium is expected to house migrants until the fall. Other shelters have also been opened around the city.
"We didn't know what was going to happen," a woman at the Roxham Road point of entry told the CBC on Wednesday. "So we checked online and we saw that Canada was going to welcome Haitians, and that's why we come here."
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre tweeted a welcome to the asylum seekers on Wednesday, noting they "can count on our full co-operation."
La ville de Montréal souhaite la bienvenue aux réfugiés haïtiens. Vous pouvez compter sur notre entière collaboration. Nap kin be fo.— DenisCoderre (@DenisCoderre) August 2, 2017
It is unclear whether or not the asylum seekers will be allowed to stay in Canada, as the government considers Haiti sufficiently safe. Asylum seekers could therefore be deported, should their applications for refugee status be refused.