The United Nations is sending a lawyer to observe the recent trickle of refugees leaving the United States for Canada. Hundreds of refugees have braved below-freezing temperatures to cross the U.S. Canada border on foot into Manitoba.
“We’re interested in seeing what the situation is here,” said Azadeh Tamjeedi, the UN’s human rights lawyer. “It’s just going to be an observational mission.”
Tamjeedi will be meeting with the asylum seekers, as well as the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency in Winnipeg. She will be investigating how the refugees are being processed by the RCMP and border agencies.
The 1951 United Nations Refugee convention ensures Canada must take in any asylum seekers who come to the country. Tamjeedi says she has no reason to believe Canada has violated the convention thus far.
“We’re pretty happy with the system in Canada. It’s a very robust system.”
Refugees who make the crossing are often taking a serious risk. The lesser patrolled areas of the border preferred by asylum seekers are also the most dangerous, being located far from any cell phone towers or potential help from either side.
A Ghanaian refugee who crossed over on Christmas Eve almost died during the ordeal.
“It’s very bad news,” said Seidu Mohammed during an interview with CBC News at a hospital in Winnipeg, where he was recovering from severe frostbite. “I don’t know what to do right now.”
Mohammed left Ghana in 2015, fearing for his life due to his sexual orientation. He made his way to San Diego, where he was detained for a year before being denied asylum.
He and another asylum seeker decided to cross over into Canada. They walked seven hours through waist high snow in temperatures nearing -20 C. They proceeded to spend hours flagging down trucks on the highway, until one finally stopped and called 911.
“If not for him, we would have died in that snow,” said Mohammed. “Nobody stopped till this good Samaritan, God sent this man… We were about to give up.”
Mohammed, still recovering, had all of his fingers amputated due to frostbite. Doctors gave him the option of using some of his toes to replace his fingers, but he said no, he still wanted to play soccer.
Those seeking to cross the U.S. Canada border are aided by an informal network of family and friends, believes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told CTV News that he does not believe the refugees pouring into Manitoba constitute a trend, as opposed to worries from the provincial government.