Emerson community response 'almost seamless' dealing with 21 asylum-seekers over the weekend, reeve says

Just two days after the town held an emergency meeting to clear up protocol facing a recent surge of refugees crossing the border, the reeve of Emerson, Man. says the community and law enforcement worked smoothly when put to the test.

Large group arrived in Emerson 2 days after community emergency meeting

21 asylum-seekers arrived in Emerson, Man. over the weekend. (CBC)

Just two days after the town held an emergency meeting to clear up protocol facing a recent surge of refugees crossing the border, the reeve of Emerson, Man. says the community response ran smoothly when put to the test.

"I think everything worked really well. The RCMP responded quickly, and IBET, the other enforcement agency. It actually went almost seamless," said Emerson-Franklin Reeve Greg Janzen. One group of six refugees wound up knocking on doors looking for help, but Janzen said homeowners knew who to call after the meeting.

"I don't think anyone in town other than the ones who had their doors knocked on knew there were people jumping the border on Friday night," he added.

Early Saturday morning, at least 21 refugees crossed the Canada-U.S. border in two separate groups — one of 16 people — and walked into the town on foot.

Their arrival followed a Thursday meeting between townspeople, the reeve and representatives from the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to hash out the details of what the community should do when large groups of refugees end up in town while seeking asylum in Canada from the U.S.

Emerson-Franklin Reeve Greg Janzen says border services and law enforcement responded 'almost seamlessly' to the arrival of 21 refugees this weekend. (CBC)

'Not scared yet': reeve

Last weekend, when 22 asylum-seekers walked into the town, some had to be put up in the community hall.

But this weekend, Janzen said when he offered CBSA use of the hall, he was told it wasn't needed. He praised CBSA for keeping up communication. 

Refugee claimants crossing into Canada on foot near the town is nothing new, Janzen said, but the recent upswing in numbers — and the big groups they're coming in — has people talking.

"I still think overall, the general feeling — they're not really scared, but as these numbers grow, you're starting to see a little bit of concern in their voice," he said.

"But if we see 40 come at one night, that could change it," he added.

Claudette Abny lives in Emerson and says she has changed her dog-walking route in light of the recent surge in refugee arrivals. (CBC)

Claudette Abney, who lives in town, says she finds the large groups a little more worrisome than the old trend of individuals arriving in groups of four or smaller.

She used to walk her dogs throughout the fields, she said, but now she stays closer to home when her husband's not there.

"It's not that I'm especially scared of them, and I know they're not coming here to do me ill, but you never know," she said. "One or two of them could be bad, or, you know, if they're desperate — people can be desperate, especially when it's horribly cold like this."

Abney said she believes many of the new arrivals are coming to Canada as a response to new U.S. President Donald Trump.

"He's so volatile that you don't know, and I don't blame them for being afraid, you know," she said. "They don't want to go back to those countries."

'My door is open,' resident says

Emerson resident Janice Perreault said her biggest concern is the refugees' safety during the hours-long crossing in the cold.

"I don't think there's a problem for [the town's] safety, because they want to come into Canada, so they're not going to do anything," she said.

Janice Perreault of Emerson said her doors are open to incoming refugees facing the cold. (CBC)

"My door is open. My porch door is open. If they come in, they can warm up. I would rather have somebody warm themselves up in my house than freeze to death out there."

But she said she's been struck by the increase in numbers, and has concerns not all refugees coming into Canada are "legitimate."

"It's very overwhelming, the number of people, and the time of the year that they're coming across is very concerning," she said.

"I just wish them lots of luck. I don't want to see anybody freezing out there," she added.

With files from Jacaudrey Charbonneau, Aidan Geary