Refugees Are Risking Their Lives By Walking Across the US Border to Canada
Over sixty refugees have entered Canada by walking from North Dakota to a small town in the province of Manitoba in sub-zero temperatures since January alone.
While Trump's executive orders banning refugees and immigrants from several Muslim majority countries was temporarily halted last week, many refugees have been crossing into Canada on foot braving extreme weather conditions — with at least two of those refugees losing fingers and hands.
Over this past weekend, 22 asylum seekers walked into the small town of Emerson, Manitoba which borders the state of North Dakota. The refugees join an overall total of 61 who have entered Canada illegally by foot in temperatures that can sink as low as -4°F.
Last month, two men from Ghana made headlines in Canada for being found on the side of the road in Emerson and being admitted to hospital for frostbite in their hands and feet.
Bashir Khan, the lawyer for those two men, currently represents 17 refugees in Canada, and says that many of his clients risk their lives trudging through waist deep snow after failed attempts at obtaining asylum in United States. Speaking to Broadly, Khan says, "Their ultimate goal was not to come to Canada." Many of his clients who come from African nations like Ghana, Somalia, and Djibouti travel through South America all the way to the United States. It is then they go through an arduous process of trying to obtain asylum in that country.
According to Khan, most of his clients spend anywhere between nine and 22 months in detention centers. "They are then denied the right to a lawyer or do not have funds to get lawyers." From there, paperwork and obtaining information to help their cases becomes nearly impossible. "They don't have the resources to fill their forms or they do so with the help of other prisoners in detention who only have slightly better English skills." Because the detainees also lack the ability to obtain paperwork and proof from their countries of origins, Khan explains that many of their cases are lost. It's after that point they make their way to Canada.
The US and Canada have a Safe Third Country Agreement, which means that if refugees go from one country to the other using a proper port of entry by crossing the border legally, Canada is obliged to send refugees back to the US and vice versa. However, by walking into Canada illegally, the refugees are able to stay in Canada and go through a proper refugee process. According to Khan, "They [refugees] know they will not be detained, that legal aid will get them a lawyer and they will have help filing their paperwork. They are also given phone cards to call home and get the proper documents to file their claim."
They're scared and they just want a fair chance at a hearing
Speaking to the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, executive director Rita Chahal explains that many of the refugees she sees from countries like Somalia and Ghana are afraid. "They're scared and they just want a fair chance at a hearing," Chahal tells Broadly. For many of the refugees, the risk of crossing over into Canada in sub-zero temperatures is worth it because, "They feel that Canada has a better system and they want to be living here."
Khan explains that while many of refugees have walked into Canada through the Emerson border, the influx of refugees coming specifically in the last month has a lot to do with refugees believing the border officers will be less likely to patrol their points of entry during the cold months. However, speaking to VICE News Canada, the president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba Frank Indome said he believes it has a lot to do with President Trump winning the US election. "People are trying to seek refuge elsewhere, based on the fear that they might be rounded up and deported," said Indome.
Because of the threats from President Trump's executive orders and the influx of refugees risking their lives walking to Manitoba, Canadian lawyers are urging the government of Canada to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. In a statement, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers released a statement urging a suspension of the agreement stating, "We should not be sending anyone back to face an increasingly hostile and discriminatory system."