The Canadian town of Emerson, Manitoba has become the front line of an emerging political crisis that is testing Canada’s will to welcome asylum seekers
EMERSON, MANITOBA, CANADA (REUTERS) – The Canadian town of Emerson, Manitoba has become the front line of an emerging political crisis that is testing Canada’s will to welcome asylum seekers.
Hundreds of people, mainly from Africa but also the Middle East, are fleeing U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, migrants and refugee agencies say. Many asylum seekers say Trump’s election and subsequent crackdown on illegal migrants spurred their plans to head north.
Those arriving in Emerson come on foot in the dead of night, unnerving its 650 residents. Some fear the influx of unscreened migrants while others are frustrated by the cost and effort forced on the community.
Early Sunday, Reuters witnessed at least seven migrants bundled in new parkas and bulging backpacks walking into Canada from Minnesota, following railway tracks in the icy dark.
Ismail, a 25-year-old Somali man, said they had walked for 22 hours without sleep across North Dakota. As police lights flashed distantly, Ismail said he was afraid to walk toward them.
He thought the group was still on U.S. soil.
Canadian police caught up with them shortly afterward and arrested them for illegally entering Canada. The group squeezed, uncuffed, into a police minivan and headed to a government office for questioning.
A 2004 agreement between Canada and the United States means asylum seekers must submit applications in the United States if they arrive there first. But if they find a way into Canada, they can apply for refugee status there.
It’s an avenue that has spurred north illegal migrants in the United States, especially Somalis settled in Minnesota, which shares a land border with Manitoba. After pricey taxi rides to North Dakota, many like Ismail walk for hours in darkness and -20 C (-4°F) temperatures to dimly lit Emerson, in the shadow of the bright glare of the international border crossing.
“Quite often, as you can see it’s very dangerous conditions out here. It’s snow-covered, it’s wide open and it’s very windy at times. We are started to see a small influx of females and children coming across and making this dangerous journey and quite often we are encountering a few medical situations from time to time,” said Sgt. Cory Meyers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Emerson Cafe manager Jacquelyn Reimer said she was getting ready for opening her cafe on a recent morning when she noticed seven refugees standing outside.
“We noticed they were cold, they were hungry. We offered them to come in, have something to eat, warm up, have a bottle of water, some coffee, some juice and then the RCMP showed up, brought them away,” Reimer told Reuters.
“These people have been running for years at this point and I just want them to feel welcome into our country and calm,” Reimer added.
Due to its border-hugging location, Emerson’s encounters with migrants are not new, but the scale of their arrivals is.
In the first two months of 2017, 143 mainly Somali people walked illegally over the border into Emerson, representing 40 percent of Manitoba’s full-year total in 2015/16. Quebec and British Columbia are the two other major illegal crossing points, but police there refused to provide data.
Emerson residents don’t encounter the migrants for long before police arrive and whisk them to the local Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) office for questioning. From there, they are ferried to Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital, to file asylum claims.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increased pressure from the left, which wants him to let more in, and from the right, which is fearful of an increased security risk. Trudeau must tread carefully to ensure the issue does not complicate relations with Trump.
The cooling welcome in Emerson is a microcosm of growing discontent over Canada’s open door policy for refugees.
Last week, an Angus Reid poll found that while 47 percent of respondents said Canada is taking in the right number of refugees, 41 percent said the number is already too high.