USA First Look

Trekking through snow and cold, Muslim refugees take their chances in Canada

A small but growing number of Muslim refugees are fleeing Trump’s America, braving through snowstorms to cross the border to Canada.

Desperate immigrants are flowing across the US border into Canada, reports say. This photo shows the Canada and United States border crossing near Emerson, Manitoba.
John Woods/The Canadian Press/AP/File | Caption

Disheartened by the Trump administration's attempts to halt the flow of refugees into the United States, a small but growing number of Muslim asylum seekers are fleeing President Trump’s America, trekking through, through frigid temperatures and waist-deep snow to cross the border to Canada.

As 1,100 refugees arrived in the United States last week with the lifting of the Trump administration's travel ban by the federal courts, some 25 refugees decided to forgo their chances of being granted asylum in the United States and instead made their way to Emerson, Manitoba, despite fierce snowstorms.

"Sometimes we were crawling," Hussein Ahmed, a Somali refugee told CNN. "It was terrible.... I thought I would never survive such a field of ice."

According to local officials, the number of refugees crossing into Emerson has drastically increased from 50 to 60 each year to 40 in the past two weekends. The numbers for the other areas also grew, as Quebec saw the number of illegal crossings tripled to 1,280 this current fiscal year while British Columbia had 652 cases last year.

Even before Mr. Trump had taken office, some asylum seekers who had thought they would find their second chance in the United States began shifting their sights further north to Canada.

When Ghanaian national Razak Iyal first began walking from North Dakota to Manitoba in December, he had no idea the potential risks of embarking on such a journey by foot in winter. He and his travel companion, another Ghanaian refugee whom he met along the way, both lost their fingers to frostbite along the way. But they found a community ready to welcome them with open arms, at least temporarily.

"The president of the Ghana community [in Winnipeg], she has been coming every day, every day.... She brings us food, everything we need," Mr. Iyal told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "She's been helping us, and most of the Canadian people, too … when they see us they have been good to us. Now I think we are part of the Canadian people."

Though Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Canada would accept refugees turned away by the United States, there is no guarantee that Iyal will be allowed to stay in Canada permanently after crossing the border illegally. His immigration hearing is scheduled for March 27.

As a growing number of people traveled at “one of the coldest seasons," border patrol officials in North Dakota have contacted consulates from some African countries, asking them to spread information about the hazards of winter in Minnesota and North Dakota.

"Family groups with small children that, if someone hadn't gone out and picked them up, they'd have frozen to death," said Aaron Heitke, border patrol sector commander at Grand Forks, a popular crossing point for immigrants as it is 80 miles from Emerson of Manitoba, told the Associated Press.

Facing the new humanitarian issue, Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, said it is important to help these immigrants “at their moment of desperation,” by welcoming them and distributing blankets at the border when the center gets calls about new groups.

"People are running for their lives. They are running for safety, running for their families," Ms. Chahal told CNN. "When somebody comes into a new country, they don't know the language, often, they don't know their way around, so it's really important to help them navigate."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.