Body of woman, 57, found near Manitoba border believed to be asylum seeker, U.S. police say

A body found less than a kilometre from the Manitoba border in Minnesota is believed to be that of an asylum seeker who died of hypothermia, police say.

Preliminary autopsy shows woman died from hypothermia

A group of migrants who said they were from Djibouti and Somalia walk along railway tracks after crossing the Canada-U.S. border in Emerson, Man., on March 27. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

A body found less than a kilometre from the Manitoba border in Minnesota is believed to be that of an asylum seeker who died of hypothermia, police say.

Kittson County Sheriff's department received a call last Thursday about a missing woman who was last believed to be in the county on Monday.

Members of the sheriff's office, with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol, found the body of a woman near Noyes, Minn., on Friday around 3 p.m. CT. She was found in a ditch not far from the Canadian border, west of Highway 75, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

A preliminary autopsy report said 57-year-old Mavis Otuteye, who police believe is a citizen of Ghana, died from hypothermia.

Police said they are still waiting on a final autopsy.

Police added their investigation shows the woman was attempting to enter Canada when she died.

Kittson County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are investigating the death.

In an email to CBC, RCMP said they are aware that remains were located near the border. RCMP said the Integrated Border Enforcement Team works closely with partners in the U.S., and they will assist the investigation if need be. 

Boundary Avenue marks the Canada/U.S. border just east of Emerson, Man. Many asylum seekers cross the border here. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The fields around the Emerson, Man., border have become a pathway for many asylum seekers hoping to make a refugee claim in Canada. 

In the first four months of this year, the RCMP intercepted 477 asylum seekers in Manitoba, federal government figures state. 

"It was just a matter of time before someone was going to succumb to their injuries or get hypothermia out in the field or in the side of a road." said Emerson-Franklin Reeve Greg Janzen. 

"We didn't think we would find somebody this time of year," he said. "We thought maybe we would find somebody who had frozen to death, I guess, in the winter, but weren't expecting that this time of year." 

Janzen said all he has been told is that the body was not found very far from Emerson and its border into the U.S., and that the woman was not a local resident from Kittson County.

The death is a reminder to the community that the risks asylum seekers are taking has not gone away, Janzen added.

Weather remains cold 

"These people are walking in the middle of the night, they don't know where they are going and if this person did pass away from hypothermia, they are still travelling and it isn't safe, it's not really warm yet," he said. 

Residents continue to check the ditches and fields, especially during seeding, Janzen said. As the crops start to grow tall and harvest season comes around, he said concern will be high. 

"It is in the backs of their minds that they have to be on the lookout for something like that," he said.  

Janzen said it's time to close the "loophole" requiring asylum seekers to do irregular crossings.

Under the Safe Third Country agreement, Canada generally does not accept refugee claimants coming in from the U.S., but there are exceptions. Canada is also a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, so those who irregularly cross into the country — meaning they enter somewhere other than a border crossing — can be given permission to make a claim here.