Date: Friday, 03 March 2017
(Recasts; adds people crossing border illegally, quotes from government officials)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, March 2 (Reuters) - Canada sees no signs of a coming surge in asylum seekers illegally crossing the border from the United States, a senior government official told reporters on Thursday, even as a steady stream of people continued to walk across the frontier.
Several hundred people, mainly from Africa, have defied winter conditions to enter Canada since Jan. 1. They are fleeing President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigrants, migrants and refugee agencies say.
A briefing by Canadian officials was the first of its kind and comes as the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes under increasing domestic political pressure to deal with the influx.
Trudeau must also ensure the issue does not complicate his relations with Trump.
Security experts predict more will try to come as the snow melts and the weather warms.
But officials told the briefing it was too early to say whether a trend was developing and noted the number involved was still very small compared to the roughly 26,000 people who ask for asylum in Canada on average every year.
"There is no reason to believe that simply changes in weather patterns is going to lead to (an) increase," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
As dawn broke on Thursday, Reuters photographer Dario Ayala watched the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrest a group of five - a man, two women and two children - after they scrambled across a ditch near the Quebec town of Hemmingford, on the border with New York state. The people said they came from Syria.
An RCMP officer standing on the Canadian side warned the group they would be detained if they crossed.
"Sorry, sorry, we have no choice," said the man. Once in Canada, they were detained, and driven off for processing.
Later the same morning, at the same spot, Ayala saw police arrest seven people who said they were from Eritrea.
Reuters could not independently verify nationalities of people crossing the border on Thursday.
Government officials acknowledge an increase in people seeking asylum this year while insisting they have enough resources to cope.
Although no one has yet been charged by the police for illegally crossing the border, all those detained are checked to make sure they do not have convictions for serious crimes.
"We are not releasing anyone we have concerns about," another official told the briefing. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Chris Reese)
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