A growing number of immigrants who initially sought refuge in the United States are now fleeing to Canada — and, in many cases, are risking frostbite to make it across the northern border on foot.
Immigrant advocates say desperate people are being driven away from the U.S. thanks to the fear and uncertainty sparked by President Donald Trump’s policies — including, recently, an executive order that temporarily halts refugee resettlement from Syria and bars people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Nine asylum-seekers from Sudan, including four children, barely made it across the Canadian border on Friday in an exchange that was captured by a photographer from Reuters. After a cab dropped off the group near the border line in Champlain, New York, they dodged a U.S. border patrol officer trying to examine their passports, climbed over snowbanks, and rushed toward the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the other side.
The family had been living in Delaware for two years before deciding to leave for Canada. “Nobody cares about us,” one of the men told reporters.
And according to a CBC News reporter, a Somali man identified only as Mohamed walked 21 hours in below-freezing temperatures this week to cross the U.S.-Canadian border into Manitoba. The man told the reporter he was fleeing to Canada because the United States is a “problem” now.
By the time the reporter found him, Mohamed had been wandering around in the dark for hours and wasn’t sure where he was. He was eventually intercepted by Canadian police, who helped him get medical attention.
The journey can be dangerous, particularly during the harsh winter. One Ghanian refugee who walked across the border to Manitoba on Christmas Eve suffered severe frostbite and had to have all his fingers amputated. He said it was worth it for the chance to live in Canada.
Altogether, refugee claims at the U.S.-Canada border have doubled over the past two years.
“There’s no question what’s driving them,” Paul Caulford, a doctor at the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Healthcare who has seen a significant uptick in the number of people seeking medical help at his clinic, told Public Radio International in an interview this week.
Here's Canadian Mounties greeting refugees from Somalia who walked across the border into Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS photo by Paul Chiasson pic.twitter.com/CBAiKxHSSd
— The Canadian Press (@CdnPress) February 17, 2017
“Virtually every person who’s crossed, from pregnant women in the back of trucks to those shepherding their children to safety, have said to us that the United States is no longer a safe country for them to be in.”
Under existing policy, people who have already applied for asylum in the United States can’t also apply in Canada. But there’s a loophole: If asylum seekers simply show up in Canada, without an official record of them crossing the U.S.-Canada border, then they can seek refugee status there. Experts say that’s why there’s been an increase in people risking their lives to walk across the border to circumvent formal checkpoints.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Canada is more welcoming to refugees than the United States historically has been. And it’s specifically positioned itself as a refuge for people worried
about President Trump’s administration. Immediately after Trump’s executive orders barred people from Muslim-majority countries, halted refugee resettlement, and created chaos in U.S. airports, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a clear message: Canada will welcome you.