'I feel the pain': Asylum seeker severely frostbitten after 12 hours in the cold
With severe frostbite numbing his hands after a 12-hour trek in -28 C weather, Kangni Fiowole Kouevi couldn’t take it anymore. He found refuge in a shed and called 911.
The 36-year-old man from the West African nation of Togo spent US$700 on the more than 600-kilometre taxi ride from Minneapolis to Emerson, Man. The fare did not come with a warning about the bitter cold.
“I feel the pain,” he told CTV News on Sunday, speaking in French. “I feel too bad when I am in the cold that night.”
Nearly 1,000 people were intercepted by the RCMP after illegally crossing Manitoba’s border with the U.S. in 2017. Statistics for December and the beginning of 2018 are not yet publicly available.
Kouevi said it was fear that kept him moving on that frigid night last week. The pain in his hands is nothing compared to what he imagines he would face back home for converting to Christianity. He said he received death threats.
“I don’t give up travel to save my life,” Kouevi said.
His home for now is with Karin Gordon, the executive director of resettlement with the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, a non-profit group that works with newly arrived asylum seekers.
“I picked him up and brought him home,” she said. “I couldn’t refuse, obviously.”
Gordon even personally changed the dressings on Kouevi’s frostbitten hands after a nurse told her that he would be at risk of catching the flu if he waited to have it done at the hospital.
“It was pretty bad, but there is always hope,” she said. “The fingers were cold and gray. He had no sensation. But that has all come back.”
Doctors are hopeful that Kouevi will get to keep all of his fingers. His story and his large white bandages are a chilling reminder of two asylum seekers who weren’t so lucky.
Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal suffered severe frostbite during their perilous Christmas Eve 2016 journey across the U.S. border into Emerson. Mohammed eventually lost all of his fingers and both thumbs. Doctors were able to save Iyal’s right thumb and part of his left one, but all of his fingers were lost as well.
Gordon helped them too. In doing so, she learned how to modify a home with special doorknobs, levers, and other accessible features to accommodate guests who cannot use their hands.
“We have bidet toilet seats in the house. I installed those last year for the other fellows. So that kind of personal care they can attend to themselves,” Gordon said.
Both Mohammed and Iyal fled Ghana because they feared persecution due to their sexual orientation. They were granted refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board last year.
Kouevi said refugee status in Canada is his greatest dream. For now, Gordon is focused on his recovery, and helping him avoid the flu bug.
She also wants to see more done to crack down on those who make money from illegal border crossings by dropping ill-prepared asylum seekers off in the middle of nowhere, at night, in the dead of winter.
“I’m very concerned about the people who are profiting from these guys, and abandoning them to possible death and severe injury,” she said. “The fellow that drove him from Minneapolis, who dropped him off at the border, stripped him of $700 for that service and didn’t warn him about the cold.”
With files from CTV Winnipeg’s Beth Macdonell