Surge of refugee claimants in Manitoba border town prompts temporary shelter
Published Monday, February 6, 2017 2:20PM CST Last Updated Monday, February 6, 2017 7:16PM CST
A burst of refugee claimants who illegally crossed the border from Minnesota into Manitoba caused emergency officials to convert a southeast Manitoba town's community center into a shelter.
RCMP said 22 people illegally crossed the border near Emerson over the weekend. Of the 22 people who crossed, 19 made the trek on Saturday, police said.
“These individuals did not enter Canada through a port of entry. The RCMP picked up the 19 people and transported them to a Canada Border Services Agency location, where they could make their refugee claims,” RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said in an email to CTV News Monday.
Brenda Piett, assistant municipal emergency coordinator for the municipality of Emerson-Franklin, said Canadian Border Services called her at 8:30 a.m. Saturday to see if a local building could be opened to shelter refugee claimants.
Piett said about 14 refugee claimants, including men, at least three women, a pre-teen child and a baby arrived in Manitoba. Border staff needed a place for them to stay while they were processed.
"They had an overabundance of refugee claimants in their office, and not enough room to keep them while they processed them," she said.
"They took up all the available chairs, plus they were sitting on the floor as well," Piett added.
Piett said as many as 10 came to the Emerson Community Centre. The refugee claimants were given Nutella sandwiches, blankets and pillows.
She said the children did not come to the center because they were processed first.
Piett said the remainder of the migrants slept for hours. She said they did not speak English and stayed at the shelter from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
"They were tired. There were no medical problems,” Piett said.
"I felt bad for them, very sad. The process takes a long time.”
Mohamed Mualim, 29, was one of the people who took shelter in Emerson. He crossed the U.S. border into Manitoba Saturday.
The Somali native said he paid a smuggler $500 to drive him near the Canadian border. After being dropped off, he said he walked five hours in the snow to seek asylum in Canada.
Emerson-Franklin Councillor Doug Johnston said Monday he's concerned about the volume of people crossing into town. On top of safety concerns, he said the cost of caring for the claimants comes out of the municipal budget.
Johnston wants the Reeve, local MLA and MP for the region to have a meeting and work out a plan for the future. Johnston wants better security measures in place to stop the increase flow of people across the border.
Johnston is also concerned that once winter passes and warm weather arrives, even more migrants will try and cross the border.
Piett said the claimants at the center were eventually picked up and taken to Winnipeg.
Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Executive Director Rita Chahal said as of 3 p.m. Monday, 13 refugee claimants arrived at Welcome Place Monday morning.
Last weekend, the council helped 10 claimants who walked across the border seeking asylum in Manitoba.
Pallister advocates supporting refugee claimants illegally crossing border
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said now is not the time to strengthen the Canada-U.S. border in Manitoba.
“I would hope that if someone comes to a door and they’re freezing, that they would have that door opened. And I would hope that people would make sure and understand that there are people who require a handout right now, and that we give them that support,” said Pallister from the Legislative Building Monday.
Pallister said there is already enough pressure on the U.S. closing borders. “I don’t think we need to move in that direction,” he said
Pallister said he has spoken with the prime minister and other premiers on the topic. He wants the federal government to act as a partner to work on the situation.
“I am very concerned that we make sure, here in Manitoba, that we continue to be the home of hope,” he said. “But we also know that we are addressing the concerns of safety, both the refugees and communities where refugees are walking across miles of snow, in some cases, where people are coming to our country,” he said.