Caught on camera: Manitoba-U.S. border sees record weekend for illegal crossings
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, March 20, 2017 8:39PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 20, 2017 10:38PM EDT
Manitoba had the largest weekend influx of refugees illegally entering the province from the United States so far this year -- a situation that has local officials on edge, with many more expected follow in their footsteps as the weather improves.
Video obtained by CTV News shows 29 people walked into the province from neighbouring U.S. states on Saturday and Sunday in a series of groups.
Some were seen making the journey under the cover of night, hugging tight to a set of railway tracks to guide them into town. Others were spotted driving up to an old border crossing that once separated Minnesota and Manitoba in broad daylight and simply walking north up the road.
"We see the numbers climbing, and I don’t think that is going to slow down," Emerson-Franklin councillor Doug Johnston told CTV Winnipeg on Monday. The small border town with a population of less than 700 has been at the centre of the illegal border crossing surge.
While many expected the number of asylum seekers arriving in Manitoba would rise in step with the appearance of spring weather, the spike is proving larger than anticipated.
The number has skyrocketed from 143 at the end of February to nearly 300 at last count.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has speculated 1,000 could cross into the province this year. He’s continuing to put pressure on Ottawa to deploy more resources to help communities cope with seemingly unending stream of desperate people.
Meanwhile, the local Salvation Army estimates it has spent $100,000 to help asylum seekers since Feb. 18, including $8,000 on clothing and the cost of about 4,000 meals. This weekend the shelter said it housed three families with four children.
"We’re all concerned there are more people coming," said one shelter worker. "How are we going to house them? How are we going to accommodate them?"
Many are expected to have put off the journey due to the cold weather and risk of getting lost in the snow. But officials are now warning the dangers posed by winter conditions could give way to another seasonal risk -- flooded fields.
Subir Barman knows the perils of the journey first hand. The 40-year-old engineer from Bangladesh is part of the country’s Hindu minority, which faces ongoing religious persecution.
Barman braved freezing temperatures for about three hours when he crossed earlier this month. Even with GPS guiding his way, he managed to get lost in the cold.
Barman, like many who have arrived in Manitoba, said he was scared to cross the border, but the fear of being deported home was more than enough motivation.
"From my side, I have no way to stay anywhere," he told CTV Winnipeg. "If Trump government deports us, there will be more problems."
The issue of the influx of refugees crossing in to Manitoba was raised in the House of Commons today, with Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accusing the federal government of treating the matter "like a joke."
Rempel has previously said people who illegally enter Canada from a safe country where they do not face direct persecution should be charged.
The immigration minister deflected her line of questioning with a discussion of Mexican visas.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll says 48 per cent of Canadians supported the deportation of migrants back to the U.S. When asked about the government's handling of the matter, 46 per cent disagreed with the government's actions.
The Reuters/Ipsos online poll involved 1,001 respondents and is considered to be accurate within plus or minus four percentage points.
Despite pleas from Pallister and the Immigration and Refugee Board for more help from the Liberal government in dealing with the growing number of refugees, it is thought that there won't be extra money allocated in the federal budget out Wednesday.
With a report from CTV News' Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon