Another 22 refugees brave cold to illegally cross U.S.-Manitoba border
Another 22 asylum seekers walked through a stretch of cold wilderness between North Dakota and Manitoba last weekend, crossing the border to join dozens of others who’ve fled to Canada since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
At least 61 refugees have sought refuge in Canada since Jan. 1. Many of them come from Somalia, one of the seven Muslim-majority countries named in Trump’s contentious travel ban.
More than half of those asylum seekers fled north since Jan. 27, the day Trump signed the executive order.
“I’m not safe anymore in the United States,” Mohamed Mualim told CTV News, adding that he paid $500 to a smuggler to get him out.
The RCMP says 22 refugees were brought to Emerson-Franklin, Man., last weekend after they were found wandering in the rural area after dark. Nineteen of those were brought to warmth in a community hall, where they were fed by volunteers from the rural town.
“The women were in their dress … their traditional dress, and they walked through the snow to get here,” said Brenda Piett, an emergency coordinator in the community.
A Manitoba MLA who represents the area says that refugees crossing into the community isn’t uncommon, and that they’ve been known to cross in groups of two or three. But in recent weeks, much larger groups have been making the illegal crossing.
"A number of the people that are refugees are coming from the Minneapolis area, for example. There's a large core of Somalis there," said Cliff Graydon, MLA for Emerson.
Data collected by the Canada Border Services Agency shows a 63 per cent spike in refugee claimants who illegally crossed the border in the past two years. In Manitoba alone, 403 refugees claimants were recorded in 2016, up from 252 claimants in 2015.
For the province’s largest refugee resettlement agency, the surge in asylum seekers has left them stretched thin for space and staff -- and they expect that more are on their way.
“We as a community, we need to start preparing for even greater numbers,” said Rita Chahal of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.
In an interview on CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday, Chahal said that her organization is concerned for the safety of those making the trek.
“We know that in this last group that came, they were families and there were young children,” she said.
Trump’s ban remains frozen
Many of those refugees could be deported back to the United States under terms of the Safe Third Country agreement. The agreement, signed by Canada and the U.S. more than a decade ago, stipulates that refugees must claim status in the first country they enter.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen stood behind the Safe Third Country agreement on Tuesday.
“The U.S. asylum system from all indications from our end has not been affected by the executive order. So it remains in place,” said Hussen.
Trump’s ban on travellers from the seven nations and refugees is in legal limbo after a Seattle judge put a temporary freeze on the executive order.
On Tuesday, a panel of appeals court judges grilled a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department on the legitimacy of the ban and asked for any evidence that the seven countries blocked by the order had ties to terrorism. Justice Department lawyer August Flentje could not provide such evidence and said the government had not yet included those details in its filings.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that border crossings across Canada have seen a recent jump, but that overall numbers have been higher in past years.
"The number has risen over the last three or four years, but compared to 10 years ago, the number is substantially down," Goodale said Tuesday.
Goodale said he would consider offering more resources to Emerson-Franklin and similarly affected border communities, but did not commit to what that support would look like.
In the meantime, the rural Manitoba communities anticipate another wave of refugee claimants will cross the border this weekend.
With files from CTV’s Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon and The Canadian Press