MaryAnn Mihychuk, Robert-Falcon Ouellette visit Emerson, Man., to hear from residents

Emerson, Man., got an unofficial visit from former cabinet minister MaryAnn Mihychuk on Saturday.

Trip on Saturday prompted by influx of asylum seekers crossing Canada-U.S. border on foot

Liberal MPs MaryAnn Mihychuk (left) and Robert-Falcon Ouellette visited Emerson, Man., on Saturday with Rita Chahal (at right), executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Emerson, Man., got an unofficial visit from former cabinet minister and Manitoba MP MaryAnn Mihychuk on Saturday.

The Liberal MP said she was in town as an informal visitor to hear residents' concerns about the influx of asylum-seekers walking across the Canada-U.S. border near the community of 671 people.

"The first phase is to come and see what's happening, listen to the locals, and understand what we need to do to help them," said Mihychuk, who represents Kildonan-St. Paul.

Mihychuk was joined by Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

Ouellette, who represents Winnipeg Centre, said his riding will likely house many of the refugee claimants.

"I just want to gain a greater understanding. That's really my main issue being here," he said.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, 403 people entered Canada near the town in nine months last year, up from 340 in the 2015-16 fiscal year and 68 in 2013-14.

Mihychuk doesn't represent the area, but said she can relate to the people of Emerson because she's from nearby Vita, Man., about 50 kilometres northeast of the community.

"I'm a Manitoban who happens to be a member of parliament coming out to talk to regular folks and see how things are going," she said.

In conversations with community members — including some at a local credit union and coffee shop — Mihychuk said she heard concerns about security and the screening process for refugee claimants.

"I think there's a lack of knowledge and there's a bit of fear," she said. "So we want to ensure that people here feel supported by the federal government, as well as the good work that our premier is doing, and he's provided extra supports, so I want to give a shout-out for the Manitoba government for taking that right step."

Mihychuk said her message to community members is that they don't have to handle the influx by themselves.

"You're not alone, that I'm here to hear from you, to pass on your messages, and to make this as smooth as possible," she said. "And No. 2, that we're here to respect you and ensure that safety is No. 1, and that the rule of law is followed."

With files from Jill Coubrough