Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Refugee claimants face dangerously cold conditions crossing Manitoba border

(February 7) Over last weekend almost two dozen refugees walked over the border from the U.S. into Canada. Officials in the municipality of Emerson-Franklin directly south of Winnipeg worry about dealing with the rising numbers as they seem to be increasing.

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Doug Johnston a councilor for the municipality said:"This is right off the scale for us." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) confirmed that 22 people had crossed the border from Noyes, Minnesota into the Emerson area in Manitoba Canada. Johnston said that this is more than he has ever seen within such a short period. Rita Chahai, director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council said that last week another 10 refugee claimant files had been opened. Chahai said: "What we notice when they are in our office is that they are just extremely grateful and happy they have a chance at a fair hearing.To us, that's what is really important; that they are out of harm's way."

Most of the refugees come north to Manitoba through Minneapolis Minnesota. They are originally from such places as Somalia, Ghana and Djibouti. Four who arrived this weekend were from Somalia. Many of the refugees have no clue about weather conditions in Manitoba at this time of year and are not properly dressed. Johnston said he fears that some refugee is going to die if the number trying to get in increases while it is dead winter still.
Christmas eve, two Ghanians came by bus and then taxi to a large field that straddles the border. After wading through deep snow they finally reached the main highway to Winnipeg HIghway 75. It took some time to flag down a truck who phoned 911 when he realized how badly frozen the two were. They went by ambulance to Morris and then to Winnipeg as they were so badly frozen. The weather was quite cold even without considering the effect of the wind: "Environment Canada records show the temperature in the Emerson, Man., area on the morning of Dec. 24 was hovering around the –18 C mark before the windchill. CBC meteorologist John Sauder said skin can freeze within 30 minutes in that temperature." The two will suffer serious consequences but both are fortunate to be alive: "A Ghanaian refugee who almost died during a trek to cross the U.S.-Canada border into Manitoba on Christmas Eve will lose all of his fingers, a toe and possibly his arms." It appears from the appended video that neither will lose an arm.
Johnston thinks that when the weather warms up the influx could even be greater and he along with other officials and the local MLA want to meet with the federal and provincial government to devise a plan to deal with the situation. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) reports that 410 asylum seekers entered Canada near Emerson in just nine months last year. That is up from 340 in the year 2015-16 and only 68 in 2013-2014. Reeve of the municipality Greg Janzen said: "They are coming at all hours of the night, in the dark. We don't know if they're really bad criminals … if they're into drugs or into crime, and that's a scary thing."
Border staff were under pressure over the weekend but were able to get emergency officials in Emerson to house refugees in a local community hall. Sometimes the hall is opened for drivers stranded in snowstorms but volunteers said they had never had to deal with so many refugees.
Emerson is about 100 kilometers directly south of Winnipeg the capital. Refugees are usually picked up by fire crews or the RCMP and taken to the CBSA where they are processed. Volunteers provided the refugees blankets and warm clothes. They stayed at the hall about 12 hours. Usually refugees are not provided food but the group were hungry and were given bread with Nutella.
The Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. requires asylum seekers to claim refugee status in the "first safe country they arrive in" Any claimant trying to enter Canada from the U.S. via customs at U.S. land borders will be turned away. The deal was signed in 2004. However, there is a loophole that enables those who cross the border outside of official crossing points to be able to claim refugee status.
Janzen said: "I personally don't think they should be considered refugees. The United States is a safe country, and yet we're giving them refugee status." However, a growing number of critics including Amnesty International have called for scrapping the deal. Trump's recebt executive order is thought to have contributed to the recent influx into Manitoba. Ahmed Hussen, Federal Minister of Immigration defended the agreement claiming it allows Canada to "better handle the asylum system":"It's supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to prevent asylum shopping."
A CBC article interviews a number of refugees in Winnipeg about the refugee situation. One, Abdikheir Ahmed, who came to Winnipeg as a refugee in 2003 from Kenya, said Trump's ban is scary for Muslims like himself."We might avoid the U.S. forever. The U.S. is not a safe country for refugees anymore."

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