Toronto - Emerson, Manitoba, a small town of just 650 inhabitants on the US-Canada border, has found itself on the front line of illegal immigrant foot crossings from the US to Canada. At first eager to help those seeking asylum, they’re now struggling to cope as their severely limited resources are challenged by every new knock at the door.
Toronto – Emerson, Manitoba, a small town of just 650 inhabitants on the US-Canada border, has found itself on the front line of illegal immigrant foot crossings from the US to Canada. At first eager to help those seeking asylum, they’re now struggling to cope as their severely limited resources are challenged by every new knock at the door.
In a report filed by Reuters, they arrive mostly in the dead of night, waking sleeping and nervous residents. The people they greet are cold, exhausted, shivering and scared. All of them, including children, have arrived on foot, fleeing an increasingly precarious situation in the United States.
Since Trump’s inauguration and subsequently stalled travel ban, hundreds of illegal migrants have made the desperate decision to walk into Canada to claim asylum. The journey can be expensive and is fraught with danger, not the least of which is the sometimes-unforgiving nature of the Canadian winter. Such is the intensity of their situation that they choose this journey as the lesser of any evil facing them.
To be sure, hundreds of immigrants does not spell emergency in most cases. The size of Emerson, however, and its limited resources, makes it an emergency of sorts to residents and emergency workers alike. In the first two months of 2017, 143 mainly Somali migrants have made their way to Emerson on foot to claim asylum in Canada. That represents 40% of the province of Manitoba’s yearly total for 2015-2016.
While most residents are content to be of assistance, most like retired grain farmer, Ken Scwark, are beginning to feel a growing frustration. “We feel sorry for the people. I just wish they would come through the legal way.”
According to the same report, some migrants make a costly taxi drive to an area close to the border and walk the rest of the journey on foot, seeking out the nearest farmhouse to ask for help once they arrive on the Canadian side. For 25-year-old Somali, Ismail and his group, the journey took 22 hours, every second stabbed with the fear of being caught by US officials before Canadian soil could be reached. In Ismail’s case they were picked up by Canadian officials and taken to a processing centre where they could begin their application for asylum. Many migrants have even used their own cell phone to reach out to Canadian police once arriving on the right side of the border.
When police in Emerson receive a call to pick up migrants, the local firefighters are dispatched to attend to any possible health issues. Each time such a call is made, the town of Emerson is billed $500. This is taking a toll on the tiny town’s operating budget and that is causing pressure for Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
Towns like Emerson are pleading with their provincial governments for added assistance to cope with the influx and the provinces are, in turn, pressuring the federal government to augment the expense. To the right of Trudeau, there is the opposition Conservative party, urging extreme caution, citing security concerns. To his left are calls to increase the numbers being allowed in. Amid growing discontent across Canada, the Prime Minister is walking a fine line between doing what is Canadian, ie; remaining a welcoming haven for anyone seeking refuge, and tempering the calls for restraint.
The provinces of Quebec and British Columbia have also seen a sharp rise in the number of illegal migrants crossing from the US on foot. Despite growing fears among border town residents, not a single case of trouble has been reported.