Refugees Living In MN Heading For Canadian Border

Credit: Dan Koeck/MPR News

Increasing numbers of immigrants are illegally crossing into Canada

St. Paul, MN – Minnesota, home of the largest Somali refugee population in the U.S., is often viewed as an appealing destination for refugees and immigrants seeking asylum. However, some immigrants are now heading for the border.

The U.S. border patrol has reported a spike in Canadian-bound border crossings this month. Most of the immigrants braving the bitter Minnesotan winter to illegally enter Canada in hopes of asylum come from Somalia, Ghana, or other African countries.

This new spike is being blamed on President Trump’s views on immigration. Even with the court-ordered restriction on the travel ban, immigrants are still uneasy about their future here. In comparison, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed a welcoming stance on immigrants and refugees. Following Trump’s temporary ban on refugees, Trudeau tweeted that “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”

Immigrants, including some that have been denied refugee-status in the U.S. and face potential deportation, are now putting Trudeau’s Twitter statements to the test.

While it isn’t a crime to attempt to leave the U.S., Aaron Heitke, the Border Patrol Grand Forks sector commander, is concerned about the dangers associated with the cold winters in Minnesota and North Dakota. Heitke has reached out to African communities in hopes of educating those unaware of the climate near the border.

“Family groups with small children that, if someone hadn’t gone out and picked them up, they’d have frozen to death,” Heitke said.

Heitke claims are not unreasonable. Two men from Ghana, Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal, were reported to have suffered severe frostbite on their hands leading to amputation of their fingers.

“We lost our fingers, but we still alive,” Iyal told MPR News. “I know with the help of people of Canada, we can do something with our life.”

The refugees and immigrants fleeing the country have to avoid official border crossings and make the treacherous trip across snow-covered farm land because of the U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement. Under this agreement, people seeking asylum must apply for refugee status in the first safe country they arrive in. Immigrants showing up at the Canadian border would be told to apply for refugee status in the U.S. and turned away.

However, if immigrants cross the border illegally and are arrested by Canadian officials, they can apply for refugee status and their case will often be heard. Just this month, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have reported 69 people who have crossed the northwest Minnesota border have received refugee status.

The immigrants coming from Minnesota are usually processed in Emerson, Manitoba. If the current trend continues, it would be a significant increase from the 444 refugees who crossed into Canada from the same area last year.

Christine Bauman
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