Manitoba

'They need help': Surge in donations following swell of asylum-seekers

A shirt, a pair of jeans, gloves and a ski mask to cover his face – that was all Farah Ibrhin packed in his small backpack before leaving Minneapolis on a journey to the Canadian border.

At least 22 more refugee claimaints crossed into Manitoba over the weekend

A shirt, a pair of jeans, gloves and a ski mask to cover his face — that was all Farah Ibrhin packed in his small backpack before leaving Minneapolis on a journey to the Canadian border. 2:27

A shirt, a pair of jeans, gloves and a ski mask to cover his face — that was all Farah Ibrhin packed in his small backpack before leaving Minneapolis on a journey to the Canadian border.

A vehicle dropped him and some other asylum-seekers near the Emerson border Saturday night and they started to walk through the deep snow of nearby fields onto Canadian land.

"Nobody was expecting the snow would be deep. Everyone was shocked," said Ibrhin, who is originally from Somalia.

A woman with a child thought about turning back because the snow was waist-deep, but the group encouraged them on, Ibrhin said.

"We don't want to go back to America, especially now with Donald Trump and what he is saying to the immigrants, is very terrifying for everyone," Ibrhin said.

At least 22 asylum-seekers made their way into Manitoba over the weekend.

There's been a large increase in refugee claimants making the perilous journey into Canada. More than 400 refugee claimants have crossed the border since last April, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Many of them aren't bringing much more than a backpack.

'We need a lot more support'

At the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute in Winnipeg bags of clothing and personal hygiene products are piled high. Executive director Laurel Martin said it was important for them to step up and help the refugees.

"If you put yourself in the situation where all you have is what's on your back, think about what you would need for a week to keep clean, to sleep well and eat," she said.

They put out a call for donations and on Monday they came pouring in. Martin said with the surge in numbers, they still need more clothing, food and even bedding.

But for many of the asylum-seekers, a place to sleep is getting harder to find.

The asylum-seekers start their refugee claim right away at the borders but the average wait time from submitting the claim to their first tribunal hearing can take about six to eight weeks, Manitoba immigration lawyer Alastair Clarke said. 

"Here we have quite a robust social services system but we are overwhelmed. It's been a huge increase in the number of claimants recently and we need a lot more support," he said.

That means services that help the asylum-seekers, like Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council in Winnipeg, are struggling to keep up. Last week, MIIC reached capacity at its three temporary housing units.

Since last April, Welcome Place has worked with nearly 300 refugees, where in a typical year they would handle between 60 and 70 claimants.

'They are here in Canada, they need help'

Winnipeg's Salvation Army has also opened up beds to help after the surge in refugees.

"We've grown to 25 people as of last night in our shelter. The night before we had eight so there was a big influx yesterday," Salvation Army's Major Rob Kerr said on Monday.

There are 13 people, including three children, staying in the family shelter and 12 others staying in the shelters for men and women. The refugees can stay indefinitely but Kerr said most try to find stable housing and move on from the shelter.

Salvation Army’s Major Rob Kerr says the asylum seekers are always kind and grateful to have a place to sleep. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"They are very friendly, very kind, very appreciative of what we've been able to do for them. Obviously they are a little bit scared, they've crossed the border, they've come into Canada," he said.

"Now they've got to do some paperwork. They are hoping they will be accepted as asylum-seekers here in Canada."

Outside some Winnipeggers who use the shelter showed their disapproval of sharing the emergency accommodation but Kerr said they are making sure everyone is safe.  

"They are here in Canada, they need help," he said.

With files from Courtney Rutherford and Kelly Malone