A Winnipeg woman says she was shocked to learn her niece was denied protection in Canada, even after going through the proper channels.

Martha Cummings-Newray said her niece, Watta Cephas, is from Liberia, but is in the United States under temporary protection status which will expire in two months.

She said Cephas was too afraid to illegally cross the border as so many others have, so she walked up to border guards on March 5 asking for refugee protection.

"She didn't want to get caught up somewhere where she would probably freeze to death," said Cummings-Newray, who is also from Liberia and received her Canadian citizenship in 2011.

Because of her legal status in Canada, her niece qualifies under the family exemption of the Safe Third Country agreement between Canada and the United States.

Watta Cephus

Watta Cephus made an refugee claim under the family exemption of the Safe Third Party agreemen at the Emerson border on March 5, but was denied entry. (Martha Cummings-Newray)

Cephas said over the phone from Minnesota that she went to the U.S. on a visitor visa in 2014 and was allowed to stay because of the Ebola crisis in her country.

She said she spoke to a government official in February who told her that her visa would not be renewed because of the new travel ban.

"I don't want them to send her back because I am afraid I might lose her again," she said.‚Äč

Cummings-Newray said her home country is dangerous and corrupt. She said her niece survived the war, but experienced horrible things.

"All of the torture and torment they went through, even her father died trying to run, escape the rebels," she said. "They couldn't even bury him. They had to leave him right where he died and keep running."

Cephas said the border agents didn't believe her family connection and told her to go back to her country.

"I don't think that's your mother's sister," Cephas recalled border agents saying.

She said the agent took her phone and did not allow her to call her aunt for proof, denied her claim, and walked her back into the United States. 

Immigration lawyer Bashir Khan said he is surprised at how many people like Cephas are being denied under the family exemption.

"I am thinking that there is perhaps more stringent enforcement by CBSA," Said Khan. "I have known in the past of people coming into Canada and making a refugee claim at a port of entry and these people don't even have any documentation of relatives other than just a statement by their relative by a simple telephone call by the border officials."

Khan said Cephas could try again and ask for reconsideration of her claim if she provides proper documentation.

"This document could be a statutory document written by the relative in Canada in advance, confirm that the person trying to come into Canada is their blood relative," he said. "Or it could be a birth certificate or any kind of family documentation that shows there is a relationship between the refugee claimant and the blood relative that they are alleging."

Cephas said she is now too scared to try again, but is even more worried she will be deported in May back to the country she fled in fear for her life.