By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) - The number of asylum seekers walking across the U.S. border into Canada illegally dropped by more than two-thirds in September from August, government data showed on Monday, as officials seek to dispel myths around the country's refugee system.
The decline, to 1,881 from 5,712, brings the total number of border-crossers so far this year to 15,102 - the vast majority entering the primarily French-speaking province of Quebec. The influx prompted the creation of a temporary tent encampment in Quebec and sparked a backlash from anti-migrant groups.
September's drop comes after a push by Canada's federal government to correct "misinformation" in diaspora communities in the United States that Canada gives all refugee applicants permanent resident status.
Canada received almost 36,000 refugee claims in the first nine months of the year, putting the country on track to have more claims this year than any since 2001.
Preliminary numbers indicate many asylum seekers are succeeding in their refugee claims, which means they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries.
Lawyers who have handled dozens of cases told Reuters that decision-makers, previously skeptical of claims from people who spent time in the United States, have been sympathetic toward clients who say they left fearing President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown.
Acceptance rates in the first half of this year were in keeping with previous years'.
Of the 300 asylum seekers processed since Sept. 5 by the Immigration and Refugee Board's dedicated team in Quebec, between 165 and 177 have been accepted, according to spokeswoman Anna Pape.
That success rate is higher than previous years' averages for Haitians, who make up the majority of asylum seekers who crossed into Quebec illegally this summer.
"A lot of assumptions have been made about the refugee claimants arriving in recent months," said Canadian Council for Refugees Executive Director Janet Dench. "We are not surprised to find that a significant proportion are found to be refugees.”
The number of refugee hearings delayed due to lack of people to hear the case or places to hold the hearing rose tenfold within a year, according to refugee board statistics.
It will take an estimated 16 months for claims now in the queue to be decided, Pape said – leaving asylum seekers in limbo as they try to establish lives in Canada.
Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen said earlier this month the government has no plans to boost the refugee board's resources.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Dan Grebler)