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Refugees are making dangerous journeys to Canada… from the U.S.

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Increasing numbers of fearful people are crossing the border in frigid temperatures

Over the past few months refugees have been entering Canada from the United States from remote, unguarded border locations. Many of them are African asylum seekers who are fearful that the crackdown on immigrants in the U.S. will result in them being deported to their countries of origin. So they take their chances walking in frigid winter temperatures, snow and ice, to make the journey north.

The Guardian reports that advocates in Manitoba say some 139 refugees, including children, have made the dangerous crossing since January 1,2017, while groups in British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario also report a rise in these crossings.

There’s a long standing pact between the U.S. and Canada called the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was signed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and states that a refugee must claim asylum in the country where they first arrive. So, a refugee arriving at a Canadian border checkpoint could be refused and turned back to the U.S.

According to Mitchell Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, this is why refugees are crossing the border illegally into Canada.

“They’re being told the only way you can make a claim in Canada is to cross the border,” says Goldberg. “They’re being told that’s illegal, but in fact that’s the only way for them to make a refugee claim, and if their life is in danger in their country, that’s the only recourse left for them to get into the country and make a claim inside.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that his government would not seek to stem “irregular migration along the US border. “We will continue to strike that balance between a rigorous system and accepting people who need help,” Trudeau said.

MPR News tells the stories of a few of the individuals who’ve made the crossing since the new year. Bashir Yussuf is one of them. His story begins in Somalia, where he says after falling in love with a girl from another tribe, he was beaten. After being hospitalized, he fled the country, first to South America — a common route for asylum seekers  —before he managed to make it through the jungles of Panama to the U.S. border. Yussuf made it to San Diego where he worked odd jobs, waiting for his refugee claim to be processed. But after his claim was denied and he was ordered to be deported in late 2015, he made his way to Minneapolis where a friend found someone willing to drive him to the Canadian border. Yussuf says he was convinced he had to flee the U.S. before he was deported since “a return to Somalia would be a death sentence.”

These fears also drove two men from Ghana to take the same desperate measures, according to the same article in MPR. Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed paid a hefty price for crossing the border on a bitterly cold night in late December. They both suffered severe frostbite. All of Mohammed’s fingers and parts of both ears had to be amputated and Iyal lost all his fingers except for a thumb. It’s now impossible for them to do many basics, like tie their own shoes.

Still, as they sit with bandages on their hands, the men told MPR that they do not regret their choice. When they arrived in the U.S., they had high hopes they could build new lives, but ended up completely disillusioned. Both spent time in detention centers. When Iyal arrived over two years ago, he was handcuffed, chained and taken to a detention center in Arizona where he spent two years. He claims he was told to provide proof that his life was in danger in his home country of Ghana, but because he was not allowed access to internet or phone, he couldn’t get the information required.

The two men say they met in a Minneapolis bus station and after being contacted by immigration officials and fearing deportation, decided to flee.

“When I saw that letter, my body was shaking. I couldn’t even sleep that day,” says Mohammed. He packed a bag and left, telling no one. But despite his unknown fate and losing all his fingers and, he still has a dream. In Ghana, he earned a living playing soccer; now he says he wants to take a coaching course and get a license to start coaching kids.

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