A Ghanaian asylum seeker who lost his fingers to frostbite while crossing into Manitoba from the U.S. on Christmas Eve has won his case to stay.
"I'm so happy. I don't know what to say. Now I'm home, I'm finally home now," said Seidu Mohammed, who learned Wednesday night that the Immigration and Refugee Board had accepted his claim.
His immigration lawyer, Bashir Khan, said Mohammed cried with joy at the news.
"Oh, he was in tears, he was in tears, he really was. He is overjoyed, ecstatic. I mean it's a life-altering moment for this young man."
Mohammed, 24, said he faces an uphill battle, learning to cope without any fingers, but he is determined to make a life in Winnipeg.
"This is the city I want to stay in. There are a lot of good people here," he said.
Khan described Mohammed as "a real Canadian at heart."
"He is inspired by and attracted by Canadian values, that everyone has a contribution to make in society," Khan said.
"I expect good things from him."
Mohammed fled Ghana for the United States in 2015 fearing for that his sexual orientation would put his life in danger.
He says he was outed as a bisexual man during soccer training camp in Brazil in 2014 after the team manager found him with a same-sex partner.
In its 2016-17 report, Amnesty International found lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and (LGBT) people in Ghana face discrimination, violence and police harassment.
"It's illegal to be gay in Ghana. It's a crime," said Khan, noting the refugee board "acknowledged him as a person in need of protection."
Shortly after he arrived in Manitoba, Mohammed told CBC that his father, a strict Muslim, disowned him. Mohammed worried he would be persecuted — or worse — if he was forced to return to Ghana, and he didn't believe the government or police would protect him.
"I'm scared to go back to my country," he told CBC on Thursday.
During his refugee hearing, Mohammed to the judge that if he is sent back "I'm gonna be tortured or go to prison or get killed."
Mohammed had applied for a refugee claim in the United States when his visa ran out, but it was denied because he couldn't pay the required bond.
Fearing U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown, Mohammed made the decision — like hundreds of others in the past year — to sneak into Canada and apply for refugee status.
Since January, 2,000 people have made that same journey, with the majority crossing the border in Manitoba or Quebec.
While planning his crossing, Mohammed met another man, Razak Iyal, 35, who had the same idea.
The two of them took a bus to Grand Forks, N.D., then flagged a cab and spent $400 for a ride to a spot near the U.S.-Canada border on Dec. 24. From there, they made the long walk into Emerson, Man.
It was Christmas Eve, and the underdressed men shambled through frozen fields in a temperature that hovered around the –18 C mark, but with a wind chill that made it feel more like –30.
They were disoriented and wondering where the border immigration point was when a truck driver noticed them, stopped and called 911 to get them medical help.
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The local Ghanaian community in Manitoba, as well as resettlement agencies, rallied around the men and raised funds on their behalf.
Mohammed said doctors could have used some of his toes to replace them, but he declined because he wanted to still be able to play soccer.
Iyal, whose refugee hearing is next month, was also badly frostbitten. All his fingers were amputated except for his thumbs.
Despite everything he endured, and has yet to overcome, Mohammed said he regrets nothing.
"It's worth it for me to be here because this is a good country," he said.