It sounds like Canada is more than willing to take them in. So that’s where they are heading. And they can go there if they would like to. We aren’t stopping them.
By Rod Nickel and Anna Mehler Paperny
Refugees in the United States fearing a worsening climate of xenophobia in the wake of a divisive U.S. presidential campaign are flocking to Canada in growing numbers.
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 temporary restraining order by a U.S. judge of President Donald Trump’s executive order that blocked nationwide the implementation of key parts of the travel ban has provided a reprieve for refugees trying to come to the United States.
But Canadian advocacy organizations are bracing for a greater influx of asylum-seekers, driven in part by the contrast between the ruling Liberal government’s acceptance of Syrian refugees in Canada with Trump’s anti-foreigner rhetoric.
“They will make a dash for Canada, whether they are going to go through cold weather to die or not,” said Abdikheir Ahmed, a Somali immigrant in Manitoba’s capital Winnipeg who helps refugees make claims.
Since late summer, 27 men from Ghana walked to Manitoba from the United States, Yeboah said. Two lost all their fingers to frostbite in December and nearly froze to death.
More than 7,000 refugee applicants entered Canada in 2016 through land ports of entry from the United States, up 63 percent from the previous year, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Over 2,000 more entered “irregularly” during a similar time period, without official authorization, such as across unmonitored fields.
Four hundred and thirty asylum seekers crossed Manitoba’s border irregularly in the first nine months of 2016-17, up from 340 the entire previous year, CBSA said.
“The U.S. presidential campaign, putting undocumented immigrants and refugees in the spotlight, terrified them,” said Ghezae Hagos, counselor at Welcome Place. “The election and inauguration of Mr. Trump appears to be the final reason for those who came mostly last month.”
In Quebec, 1,280 refugee claimants irregularly entered between April 2016 and January 2017, triple the previous year’s total.
In British Columbia and Yukon, 652 people entered Canada irregularly in 2016, more than double the previous year.