Why so many asylum seekers are illegally crossing the U.S.-Manitoba border
Nick Wells, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, February 12, 2017 8:55PM EST
The small Manitoba town of Emerson continues to be inundated with refugee claimants entering from the U.S., and local officials say groups illegally crossing the border are getting larger.
Emerson, located near the border with North Dakota, has seen an influx of refugees in the midst of harsh winter temperatures.
Many of the roughly 80 people who have crossed into Manitoba this year are African migrants who say they are worried they will be deported by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
The Trump administration issued an executive order that banned travel into the U.S. by people from Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Syria. The ban was rejected last week by an appeals court.
But the prospect of the ban has led to refugee claimants taking desperate measures to enter Canada.
A refugee claimant from Ghana suffered frostbite so severe last month, he lost all of his fingers.
The dramatic increase in refugees showing up in the town of 700 led officials to convert the town's community centre into a shelter.
"It's flat, there's no mountains," said Jay Ihme, a safety officer with the Emerson Fire Department, when asked why the community has become a hub for illegal crossings. "So there's access roads, there's railway lines, it's just an easy place for them to come across."
RCMP on the Canadian side and U.S. border services continue to closely patrol the border, looking to spot anyone attempting to make their way into Canada illegally.
Cameras and sensors have been set up, and a helicopter patrols the American side.
But despite the obstacles, local workers say the numbers are rising.
"Maybe it's Trump, maybe it's our government's pull," said Ihme. "I think we are seeing more now…I think we are seeing the odd family unit too."
The journey to the illegal crossings normally begins in Minneapolis. From there, smugglers will take refugees close to Manitoba for $600.
Once they get close, the smugglers will let them out and point them in the direction of the Canadian border.
North Dakota residents are getting a firsthand view of the desperation the claimants face.
Vanessa Trosdahl had a Somali woman stay in the motel she owns in North Dakota.
The woman, whose visa was about to expire, was desperate to get her son into Canada.
But she was turned back by Canadian border guards.
"This lady had all the papers, everything," Trosdahl said. "I cried with her, it was really sad."
The Canadian Border Services Agency says more than 400 people illegally crossed into Manitoba, near Emerson, in 2016.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg's Beth Macdonell