'We don't know what the numbers are going to do': Warmer weather could bring more asylum seekers
Denied in the U.S., refugee claimants trekking to Canada for safe haven, U.S. Border Patrol officials say
Border officials in the United States say some of the asylum seekers they have picked up heading north in recent weeks were denied refugee status in the U.S. and are hoping to be granted safe haven in Canada.
U.S. Border Patrol sector chief for Grand Forks Aaron Heitke is in charge of monitoring 1,385 kilometres of North Dakota and Minnesota's border with Canada.
He said Wednesday the Pembina, N.D. area is where American agents have seen the greatest increase in asylum seekers crossing into Canada, but said his agency does not formally collect hard data on asylum seekers heading into this country.
A release Monday from Manitoba RCMP said so far this year, 69 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada. Nearly two dozen came across on Feb. 11 alone.
- Border town seeks help after spike in refugees
- We're willing to step up,' says Emerson reeve
- 22 refugees entered Manitoba near Emerson border over the weekend
"We don't know all of the specific drivers that are pushing people north from the United States," but at least one factor could be a rejection letter from U.S. Homeland Security, Heitke said.
"We have run into some folks that have had their refugee status denied."
The claimants agents have encountered, Heitke said, were all in the United States legally and have broken no laws attempting to cross into Canada.
Normally, U.S. Border Patrol only comes into contact with asylum seekers because a rescue call was placed.
"They're lost, they're too cold to move on," Heitke said. "A lot of these folks come from African countries, haven't been here that long [and are] not familiar with North Dakota winters. It is brutally cold here."
As CBC has previously reported, two men from Ghana suffered severe frostbite and had to have fingers and toes amputated after walking across frozen fields to claim refugee status in Canada in December.
The Safe Third Country Agreement stipulates, with few exceptions, that refugee claimants will not be accepted into Canada from the U.S. at ports of entry, compelling them to cross into the country at other locations, sometimes risking life and limb in the process.
The international pact, signed in 2002, was created in part to stop refugees from asylum shopping, where refugees apply for status in multiple safe countries.
Manitoba's Opposition NDP, along with advocates and lawyers, have called on Canada's federal government to suspend or revoke the agreement so refugee claims can be made at the safer official ports of entry.
U.S. in daily contact with CBSA, RCMP
Heitke said agents will continue to monitor the U.S. side of the border and alert Canadian officials with the Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP when they see people heading into Canada.
"We have real-time interaction over radio and cellphone with our RCMP and CBSA counterparts," Heitke said.
U.S. Border Patrol continues to be concerned, he said, about the safety of refugees facing harsh winter conditions and has spoken with community groups and consulates to warn newcomers about the dangers of cold climates.
The agency is also investigating whether any smugglers in the United States have been involved in moving refugees into Canada.
"Obviously, with the rising number we've seen in the last year or so and even through some cold temperatures, we are concerned that numbers go up as the weather warms up," Heitke said.
"We don't know what the numbers are going to do."