Teens travelling alone among latest asylum seekers walking into Manitoba

The number of asylum seekers walking across the border into Manitoba is on the rise, including the number of minors making the trek alone.

Welcome Place says 360 people have walked across the border into Manitoba since January, including 4 minors

Asylum seekers move carefully along a railway overpass in Emerson, Man., in February. Welcome Place says 360 people have made an irregular border crossing into Manitoba since January. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The number of asylum seekers walking across the Canada-U.S. border into Manitoba is on the rise — including the number of minors making the trek alone.

Since the beginning of January, nearly 360 people have made an irregular crossing — meaning one somewhere other than an official border crossing — into Manitoba, according to the refugee settlement agency Welcome Place.

"The other thing we're starting to see, which is very much a concern, is a number of minors who are unaccompanied," Welcome Place executive director Rita Chahal told CBC News.

"There's no families, there's no support systems in place." 

One youth crossed alone in February and three others in March, Chahal said, adding they range in age from 15 to 17. 

"They have their stories. Some of them have been running for a while. It's very scary," she said. 

Welcome Place staff can assist the youth in filing refugee claims, but they are immediately taken into the care of Child and Family Services. 

Housing crunch

In March alone, Welcome Place worked with 211 asylum seekers, which is more than double the 97 the agency says made the journey in February. Welcome Place worked with another 39 who crossed in January.

Many cross through fields instead of official ports of entry because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires people to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in. 

Somalia and Djibouti continue to be the most common home countries of the border crossers, Chahal said. And while the figures are in line with the agency's predictions, resources are stretched thin.

"We are having to make adjustments very quickly on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis," she said, adding housing remains the biggest challenge.

"Our units are full or getting very close to it. We work, of course, with the Salvation Army as well, and they too have reached their capacity."

Chahal is working on a temporary housing plan with the provincial government, but she says what is needed is a long-term plan.

The agency is predicting 1,000 people will make their way to Manitoba by the end of December. 


Jill Coubrough

Former CBC reporter

Jill Coubrough was a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. She previously worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and as an associate producer for the CBC documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College.