The acting head of the U.S. Embassy toured some southern Manitoba towns that have been thrust into the spotlight as asylum seekers illegally cross into Canada near their communities.
"She wanted to see first-hand what's emerging, what the issues are, how the small communities are coping," said Don Wiebe, reeve of the Municipality of Rhineland, which includes Gretna, where a refugee reception centre opened earlier this month.
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Elizabeth Moore Aubin toured the reception centre as well as Manitoba border town Emerson and Tolstoi, a small community about 10 kilometres north of the border.
Wiebe said she wanted to get a feel for the geographical area "in terms of why this has become a bit of a port of entry for asylum seekers."
An official with Manitoba Housing recently told CBC News that more than 400 people have crossed the border into Manitoba in recent months.
Asylum seekers — many fearing they could be swept up in President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown — have also crossed into Canada in other provinces, but Manitoba and Quebec have seen the majority of the 2,000 that have made the journey since January.
About 40 people of all ages, including children, have come through the Gretna reception centre in the two weeks it has been open, said Wiebe, who doesn't have a list of their home countries.
Aubin spoke with staff at the reception centre, a former seniors' home where the border crossers are given a temporary place to stay as well as help in processing applications for refugee status and preparing to appear before the immigration board.
Although the centre opened in a cloud of controversy, with some residents angry about it, most people now want to help, Wiebe said.
"We told her what the community response had been and talked a bit in terms of how do we keep this up, how long will it be going and how, in the long term, this is pretty taxing for a community," he said.
There is a room at the reception centre full of donations from people, including towels, personal hygiene items and other necessities.
Students from the high school are heading to the centre on Wednesday to organize the donations and make up bags for the refugees, Wiebe said.
Many of the asylum seekers have also started to venture out, going to local restaurants to eat and interacting with people.
"There are still some skeptics, but people within the community seem to be looking at it as this is the reality we've been handed so we will pitch in to help," Wiebe said.