A Canadian woman has been charged with human smuggling offences in connection with a recent wave of asylum seekers walking across the border from the US, police said Wednesday.
Michelle Omoruyi, 43, was stopped near the Canada-US border last Friday and charged with one count each of human smuggling and conspiracy to commit human smuggling. She is to appear in court in Estevan, Saskatchewan, on May 15.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Staff Sergeant Donovan Fisher told a press conference “nine foreign nationals were (also) intercepted while crossing the border into Canada.”
At the same time, “several” people were picked up by a border patrol in the US state of North Dakota, he said.
The arrests were the culmination of a four-month joint investigation by security agencies in both countries.
Fisher said a search of a home in Regina, Saskatchewan linked to Omoruyi uncovered a stash of cash and other unspecified evidence.
Authorities would not reveal the age, sex or nationalities of the nine foreign nationals detained at the border. But media reports said they were from West Africa and all of them have now filed refugee claims in Canada.
There has been a flood of asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his crackdown on refugees and illegal immigrants.
Canadian authorities caught 887 asylum seekers crossing unlawfully into Canada from the United States
in March, nearly triple the number in January, according to numbers released by the government Wednesday.
This brings the total number of asylum seekers caught walking across the border to 1,860 so far this year. The new statistics suggest those numbers could rise further as the weather warms.
Many of the border jumpers risked death walking up to 12 kilometers across snow-covered fields or through dense forests in the frigid cold of the Canadian winter.
Refugee advocates have said Canada’s policy to turn back people if they make refugee claims at border crossings – a provision of the 2004 Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement – exacerbates human smuggling and unlawful border crossings.
“Unfortunately one of the effects of the Safe Third Country Agreement is to provide business opportunities for smugglers, who often take advantage of the need and desperation of refugees,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.