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Montreal’s Olympic Stadium Is Now Housing Refugees

flickr/AV Dezign

Olympic stadiums are known as places that bring together people from all over the world.

And now Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is getting a chance to do just that, thanks to a recent flood of refugees coming into the Canada from the US.

The structure, which was built for the 1976 Summer Games, is being used to temporarily house some of the more than 1,000 asylum seekers who entered Quebec in July.

“We've never seen this before," Francine Dupuis, spokesperson for Programme régional d’accueil et d’intégration des demandeurs d’asile (PRAIDA), told CBC. "It's really quite a bit more intense than what we're used to.”

PRAIDA is a provincial government organization that helps refugee applicants.

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While the federal government has not yet announced an official number, Dupuis estimated that 1,174 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec in July. Last year, PRAIDA worked with only 180 people in the same month.

PRAIDA has worked with a Montreal YMCA to support asylum seekers before, but the increased number of people crossing the border made it impossible to house everyone there.

So for now, the Olympic Stadium will have to do. Newcomers will be housed in the area of the stadium with concession stands. Between 100 and 450 cots have been placed within the stadium, according to CBC.

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Kathleen Weil, Quebec immigration minister, confirmed yesterday that approximately 70% of the recent asylum seekers are Haitians.

Dupuis said that Montreal's Haitian community is a reason many have chosen to come to Quebec.

“We can handle it. There is not one ministry that is concerned about that — the federal government is not concerned about it. We have seen volumes like this in the past,” Weil said.

Still, the increase in asylum seekers from the US is significant.

President Trump has talked before about revoking the protective status Haitians hold in the US due to the devastating earthquake in 2010.

Up to 58,000 people could be deported back to Haiti in January 2018, according to CBC.

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“We didn't know what was going to happen,” one woman told CBC at Roxham Road, where asylum seekers cross illegally into Quebec. “So we checked online and we saw that Canada was going to welcome Haitians, and that's why we come here.”

Although Haitians can cross the border and ask for refugee status, it doesn’t guarantee they will receive it. Haitian asylum seekers who cross the Canada-U.S. border could be deported if their application is refused.

But for now, the Olympic Stadium remains open and Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre has tweeted a welcoming message to the Haitian asylum seekers.