The new underground railroad

Canada has a growing problem. Refugees are crossing the U.S. border, the CBC reports today. They’re going north.

“This is right off the scale for us,” said Doug Johnston, a councillor for the rural municipality of Emerson-Franklin in southern Manitoba.

Twenty-two people crossed from Noyes, Minn., last weekend alone. Another 10 crossed over last week.

Snow depth in the many prairie fields around Emerson is several feet deep in most places. With temperatures in the –20 C range on the weekend, Johnston said he is concerned about the influx of refugees and fears at this rate someone is going to die out in the cold.

Two Ghanaian refugees had most of their fingers amputated due to frostbite in December after getting caught in the cold while crossing into Manitoba from North Dakota on foot.

“If they’re coming through in the dead of the winter — we were –30 C at one time when that one gentleman came through on Dec. [24] with a northwest wind — when it warms up we’re concerned that the volume might spike up,” Johnston said.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, 410 asylum seekers entered Canada near Emerson in just nine months last year, up from the 340 in the 2015-16 fiscal year and 68 between 2013-14.

The refugees appear to be fleeing from Minneapolis. They were originally from Somalia, Ghana and Djibouti, according to Rita Chahal, the executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

“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,” Chahal tells the CBC. “To us, that’s what is really important; that they are out of harm’s way.”

The Star Tribune reported on Sunday that the number of migrations usually drops off in the winter.

“People must be really desperate if they are coming in the dead of winter,” said Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg lawyer representing asylum seekers, told the Strib.

Another refugee said he didn’t expect to be in jail when he crossed the border.

A lot of them aren’t.

The locals are putting many of them up in hotels and some members of the Interfaith Immigration Council are hosting them in their homes.

“When I got to Canada, I felt so happy. I escaped from Donald Trump,” Mouna, a Djiboutian, told Maclean’s after she walked across the border in December. She suffered severe frostbite for her trouble.

Maclean’s says its conversations with the refugees reveals there doesn’t appear to be a single source telling them to head north. They just seem to know on their own.

Mouna, the Djiboutian, was fleeing a violent forced marriage (she wouldn’t give her last name). She said one of the Somalis she befriended in Minneapolis gave her the number of another woman who could help her reach Canada. That woman never gave Mouna her name, but gave her instructions to reach Grand Forks. When she and the four other Africans she travelled with needed a cab from there, the anonymous woman played English-Somali interpreter for the taxi driver and helped him relay his $50-per-passenger charge. “He told us: ‘There is Canada. You can walk,’ ” she says.

It’s not just happening on the North Dakota/Minnesota-Canada border. Twelve-hundred refugees crossed the the Quebec-Vermont border between last April and last month. That’s three times the number in a typical year.

  • Mike Worcester
  • MrE85

    If this sounds a little crazy to our western ears, remember many of these people escaped the conflict and chaos in their homelands one foot, with little more than the clothes on their backs. Now they are scared for their lives and freedom again.

    • jon

      No what sounds crazy to my western ears isn’t the border crossing on foot…. Who among us hasn’t been in the BWCA and at least considered how easy it would be to walk (or paddle or both) into Canada.

      Heck odds are you could get to the trans-canadian highway without being stopped

      What’s crazy is that these people are fleeing Minnesota! Not because of the cold, but fleeing into the cold, to get out of Minnesota…

      • rallysocks

        I know! Too many people either don’t understand the hell refugees endure since our country has never known the violence, war, famine or corruption that leads to it being no longer safe nor habitable to live here.

        Either they don’t understand or they don’t care.

        • jon

          And that’s just the thing.

          MN doesn’t have an excessive amount of war, famine, or corruption.*

          And still people are fleeing… not because of what is here, but because they fear being sent back to the countries they fled…

          Blows my mind that it could even be a consideration… but to these people it’s enough of a potential reality that they are willing to risk some pretty nasty frostbite, and possibly even their lives to get out of here. The US is seen by them as just as dangerous as actually being back in Somalia… because if they stay here they think they might just end up back in Somalia…
          Any perspective that puts my home into the same category as a war zone is …. disconcerting, but this is their worldview… and only time will tell how far from the truth their perception really is…

          *We may have a normal amount, or even an above average amount for a first world country, but certainly nothing compared to a warzone, or 3rd world country, or areas controlled by fighting warlords…

  • Will

    If people want to move to Canada and Canada is willing to take them in I don’t really see the problem. Maybe they’re just trying to escape the hysteria filled media.

    • MrE85

      I testified before the MN legislature on the smoking ban bill. One of those speaking in opposition to the legislation said he was a political refuge. When asked from where, he replied “Canada.” Both sides erupted in laughter.

    • Chris

      Or hysteria-filled blog comments

  • Anna

    “When I got to Canada, I felt so happy. I escaped from Donald Trump,” Mouna, a Djiboutian, told Maclean’s after she walked across the border in December. She suffered severe frostbite for her trouble.”

    Escaped from Donald Trump. No one tried to escape from George W. Bush or Barack Obama or any previous president in our history.

    This is a pretty sad commentary on the status of refugees in the United States and the effect Donald Trump’s “edict” on immigrants from majority Muslim countries is having on immigrants who came here legally.

    They thought they were safe and welcome here and now they feel they must flee? We are a nation founded by immigrants and now we are driving them out?

    I am rapidly becoming ashamed to call myself an American. I never thought I would see a time when legal immigrants felt the need to escape to our kindly neighbors to the North.

    The new “normal?” There is absolutely nothing “normal” about it.

    Pollyanna posters on the this blog need not reply. There is something mentally wrong with you if you think this even close to “okay.”

    There is “danger” and there is “dangerous.”

    I’m beginning to think we are the dangerous ones.

    I saw a T-shirt for sale on line which read:

    “Can we just admit we may have taken this “anyone can grow up to be President” thing just a little too far?”

    I think that about sums it up.

    • rover27

      I was ashamed to be an American during the Bush years. But this is far, far worse. It’ shaken me to my core to think I’m living in a country where there are enough people to make this monster the president. With the help of the media, the Russians, and the FBI. But he shouldn’t have gotten 10% of the vote.

      Trump is just the culmination of the radical extremist party that produced him. They created him.

  • Heb Ienek

    Canada can certainly use the population boost, but I wonder how much of the blame, or credit, should fall upon the media’s hysterical campaign of fear? The fact is, if you are a US citizen, or hold a valid green card, no one is going to remove you from the United States.

    For those that immigrated from one of the 7 failed states on the travel ban, one must assume they came claiming to be refugees from persecution and violence. That being established, we’d be remiss not to ask why it is suddenly safe for them to return for visits or business. Stay here, and no problem.

    With all the non-profits out there purporting to exist to serve immigrants, why are none bringing the truth to these folks?

    • Fear is big in the country right now, the facts be damned.

      Home of the brave.

      • Heb Ienek

        Right. I’m wondering why the press and refugee advocates aren’t giving these folks the truth.

        • Maybe there are and they just don’t believe what they’re told.

          There’s a lot of that going around.

          • Heb Ienek

            Loss of credibility is always a possibility when institutions of authority and public trust are used as political tools.

          • Thread hijack. Ignore.

  • George Birch

    I understand the motivation to cross the border away from the official crossing places, but why choose a route that takes five hours through waist-deep snow, in -20 deg. C temperatures, that ends at a little-used rural road, miles from a population centre?

    With a few hours of research (Google Maps is your friend), one could easily find at least one route which would go something like this: take the city bus to within two blocks of the border; walk two blocks to the border on a cleared sidewalk; walk a few hundred feet through snow a few inches deep (or more likely no snow at all) to a well-travelled suburban road; walk a few blocks on the road shoulder and sidewalk; take the city bus away from border.

    The total walking time from the US bus stop to the Canadian bus stop is less than thirty minutes.

    The same result as the Emerson MB route, without risking life and limb.

  • Lizz Huie-Fulks

    The new Underground Railroad? That is not the best term to use to describe it. People who aid illegals coming into America are committing a crime and can be punished. Come to the US legally and you will not have to worry about deportation. How hard is that to understand?

    • You might want to read up on what the Underground Railroad was.