See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Desperately seeking asylum 

Refugees fleeing persecution and hard times from around the world are increasingly crossing into Canada illegally from the United States, according to Freedom House, a local nonprofit that provides support services to asylum-seekers.

Freedom House representatives discovered this while helping the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) monitor the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement for the U.S. and Canadian governments at the Detroit-Windsor border.

Implemented in December, the agreement is intended to stem the flow of people seeking political asylum and refugee status in Canada. It gives customs officials there increased discretion to refuse claims by asylum-seekers.

Freedom House Legal Director David Koelsch says that with more people crossing illegally, it’s harder for Canadian authorities to know just who is coming across. “Now they’re forcing people to go underground — and it’s become a security issue,” he says. “I’d feel better if the Canadians knew who was coming in.”

There are no clear figures as to how many people are crossing illegally into Canada. Koelsch, who has opposed the agreement from the outset because of fears that it will lead to large numbers of legitimate asylum-seekers being turned back, notes that Freedom House gets frequent calls from people who’ve already entered Canada illegally and are seeking advice once they get there. “The reason we know people are being smuggled over is that they call us,” he says.

UNHCR officials, meanwhile, say they are unaware of this particular effect of the agreement. “We haven’t come across any evidence that there has been increased smuggling,” says Nanda Na Champassak, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, which is helping monitor the effects of the agreement on the Canadian side from Ottawa. “But it is certainly something we would like to see brought to our attention.”

Send comments to

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit