One of the Ghanaian men who became lost in the cold during an illegal Christmas Eve dash across the Canada-U.S. border south of Winnipeg could lose both hands to extreme frostbite before being deported to a country where his sexual orientation is grounds for imprisonment.

Seidu Mohammed, 24, says he feared for his life in his West African homeland because he is bisexual.

Facing deportation in the U.S., he and another asylum seeker from Ghana hired a taxi to drive them to the North Dakota border near Emerson, Man., on Dec. 24. The men aimlessly walked for 10 hours in freezing, snowy weather -- losing their hats and mitts along the way. A Good Samaritan truck driver spotted them beside the road and called 911.

“We were crying because we met a man who saved our lives,” Mohammed told CTV Winnipeg.

Both of his hands are wrapped in heavy gauze as he recovers in hospital. He says he’s unable to sleep because the pain is so severe. According to the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba, the men were told how cold Manitoba was, but they crossed into the province anyway.

“It was worth it because I don’t want to go back to my country,” he said. “I’ll lose my life. It’s better I come here for a better life.”

Male same-sex acts are illegal in Ghana. A first offence is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Winnipeg immigration and refugee lawyer Bashir Khan has represented about 125 migrants who have made the journey into Manitoba over the past four years. He says a chance at attaining refugee status in Canada is often irresistible to many refugees after spending months in American detention facilities.

“When they realize that there’s the ‘Great White North,’ (that) there is an underground railroad, (they say) ‘let’s go to Canada and see if we can get a fair hearing.’ Because they did not get a fair hearing under the U.S. justice system,” said Khan.

Canada Border Services Agency says the number of people illegally crossing the border near Emerson, Man., has been on the rise since 2013. The agency estimates 410 crossed between April 1 and Dec. 8 last year.

Mohammed says while the chance at a life in Canada seemed worth the risk, he wouldn’t try it again.

The man he was travelling with is also expected to lose his fingers to frostbite. Both have been granted an extended stay in Canada while their injuries heal.

It could be months before they find out if they will be allowed live in Canada permanently. But the odds are perilously stacked against them.

Canada has an agreement with the U.S. stating that anyone who wants to make a refugee claim must do so in the first safe country they arrive in.

With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Beth Macdonell