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TORONTO, Feb 13, (AP): After he was denied asylum in the US, Seidu Mohammed’s fear of being deported to his native Ghana, where he believes he’d be killed or jailed, became so great that he set out in brutal winter conditions to cross illegally into Canada. Mohammed and his friend lost all their fingers to frostbite after a 10-hour trek across fields of waisthigh snow in sub-zero temperatures. Despite their injuries, the two men say they now feel safe. They’re part of a small but growing number of immigrants risking the northern border crossing. “God blessed Canada with good people,” said Mohammed, 24. “I see the difference between Canada and the United States.” In Manitoba, which borders Minnesota and North Dakota, groups that specialize in helping refugees say the pace of arrivals has quickened since Donald Trump became president and banned travel from seven majority- Muslim countries. Refugees who spoke with The Associated Press cited Trump’s order and anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric as the main reasons for going north. Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, said her group normally sees 50 to 60 refugees from the US each year. But The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that more than 40 have been picked up at the border near Emerson, Manitoba, in just the last two weekends. Chahal said most are natives of Somalia, which was in Trump’s travel ban, but also from Ghana, Djibouti, Nigeria and Burundi. They are making the trip at a dangerous time.
“This is one of the coldest seasons in the coldest parts of our country,” said Ghezae Hagos, a counselor at Welcome Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who deals with refugees upon arrival. He said that on Feb. 4, five Somalis said they walked for five hours in the fields in minus-30 Celsius (minus-22 F) weather. The increase at the Manitoba crossing is likely related to Minnesota’s status as the leading US landing spot for Somali immigrants. Marc Prokosch, an immigration attorney in Minneapolis, said it’s been growing more difficult for Somalis to get asylum in recent years, mostly because they lack documents to prove their identity. There is also fear of deportation. US Customs and Immigration Enforcement said 90 Somalis were deported from across the US on Jan. 25. Bashir Yussuf, a Somali refugee who spent three years in San Diego and the last two months in Minneapolis, crossed the border Feb. 5 with two others. Yussuf, 28, was ordered deported in 2015. He had remained in the US under monitoring, hoping to get a favorable ruling to stay. “But when Trump took over, eventually my hope died,” he said. He called the trip “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” describing a three-hour journey over ice and snow. “I even jumped two rivers over snow. You go down deep,” he said. “My life was in danger in many ways.” While the number of Illegal crossings to Canada is dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands from Mexico on the southern border, the numbers are increasing.