A growing number of asylum seekers are braving freezing cold temperatures to walk into Canada from the US, driven by fears of what Donald Trump’s presidency will mean for refugees, advocates say.
Manitoba’s Welcome Place refugee agency helped 91 claimants between Nov. 1 and Jan. 25 – more than the agency normally sees in a year. Most braved the freezing prairie winter to walk into Canada.
“We haven’t had something before like this,” said Maggie Yeboah, president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba, which has helped refugees get medical attention and housing. “We don’t know what to do.”
A 2004 pact between Canada and the US, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, forces most migrants to apply for asylum in the first country in which they arrive. As a result, refugee advocates say they’ve seen a spike in asylum seekers from the US taking longer, riskier routes to cross the border into Canada and file claims inland, where the agreement does not apply.
“They’re not crossing at the actual point where there’s an immigration and customs offices,” said Rita Chahal of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. “They’re walking through prairie fields with lots and lots of deep snow. In Europe we’re seeing people in boats; now just imagine a prairie flatland and snow for miles and miles.”
In an open letter to Canada’s minister of immigration, Amnesty International in Canada and the US joined forces in calling on Canada to strip the US of its designation as a safe country for refugees. “We are strong of the view that in this context Canada cannot wait to see how things continue to develop in the days and weeks to come,” the organization noted in the letter.