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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 14:13 GMT
Pakistanis flee US for Canada
Mike Fox
BBC correspondent in Montreal

refugee
Many families fear they will be separated
For most people, crossing the Canadian border involves a quick check of their passport, but growing numbers of Pakistanis see this journey as their last chance for a secure future.

New security measures in the US are driving them to make refugee claims in Canada.

"We've been seeing an average of about 12 refugee claimants a day," Jean Cheney of Canadian Immigration Control told the BBC.

What we hear constantly is that they feared... they would be detained and deported
Patrick Giantonio
Vermont Refugee Assistance
"And since the end of the December, the majority of claimants that are heading away are from Pakistan and are asking Canada's protection."

Across the frozen border, would-be refugees are stranded in New England towns like Burlington, sent back by overworked Canadian officials.

Deportations

In the land they're trying to flee, charities provide shelter leaving plenty of time for the Pakistanis to dwell on their dilemma.

Parveen, refugee
After 9/11 everything has changed
Parveen
Pakistani asylum seeker
"What we hear constantly is that they feared that if they came forward and registered, even though they were trying to legalise their status, they would be detained and deported," says Patrick Giantonio of Vermont Refugee Assistance.

"And if they didn't come forward and register, then eventually they would caught and detained and deported."

The church hall at the Salvation Army is now a makeshift dormitory. Many Pakistanis staying here are reluctant to talk.

'Detained for no reason'

But in a refuge nearby, two women asylum seekers told us what happened to their families.

refugee accommodation
Many are living in makeshift accommodation
"My dad and my brothers - they did not do anything illegally and they don't have any criminal record and stuff like that," Abiya says.

"But they were detained for two days - for no reason just for overstays, you know.

"Millions of people they are also living over here for many years and they also overstayed but they are not detained - why are we?"

Parveen says: "Rules are changed, the policies are changed - after 9/11 everything has changed. I mean the media and the people are changed".

'Integrity'

Canada and the US are tightening security at the border and they're also getting refugees to make their asylum claims in the first country they arrive in.

It's not a matter of Pakistanis, every case is specific
Immigration Minister Denis Coderre
Critics say the result will be a border that's less secure as people try to cross over illegally.

But the government in Ottawa says it's still following Canada's tradition of helping genuine refugees whoever they are.

"It's not a matter of Pakistanis, every case is specific," says Immigration Minister Denis Coderre.

"We have a process, we have to be respectful of the integrity of our system.

"We have plenty of exceptions and plenty of tools to work with to make sure that we don't put people's lives in jeopardy."

While many see Canada as a model for integration, the Pakistanis already here hope their countrymen won't be stuck at the border - on the outside looking in.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mike Fox
Canada and the US are tightening security at the border



SEE ALSO:
Immigrants fear new US policy
10 Jan 03 |  Americas
Pakistan pushes US on entry rules
18 Jan 03 |  South Asia
US widens checks on visitors
16 Jan 03 |  Americas


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