21 asylum seekers crossed into Manitoba Saturday: reeve

Emerson, Man., emergency workers helped 21 refugees who crossed the border Saturday morning.

The asylum seekers came in 2 separate groups after walking across from U.S.

Manitoba is seeing a large number of refugees enter the province via its southern border with the U.S. (CBC)

Emergency workers in Emerson, Man., were called to help at least 21 refugees who crossed the Canada-U.S. border in the wee hours of Saturday morning. 

Refugees entering from the U.S. are walking through open farmers' fields to pass through the border into Manitoba near the town.

The town's emergency measures co-ordinator, Bill Spanjer said the refugees came in two groups. 

Emerson-Franklin Reeve Greg Janzen said emergency crews found 21 asylum seekers in total. He said he's been told a bus dropped off one group of 16 people alone. 

"They're housing them all at customs," he said Saturday afternoon.

Janzen said there was at least one family that crossed the border with their children.

A group of five was located approximately six kilometres north of the customs office on Highway 75, and the larger group appears to have crossed at Noyes, Minn., he said. 

Janzen had initially told CBC 27 refugees had entered into Manitoba on Saturday, but later clarified and said he had misspoken.

Manitoba RCMP confirmed Saturday afternoon in a news release they had detained 21 people who entered into Canada.

Both groups called 911 right after they crossed the border triggering a response from RCMP and the local fire department.

"These people basically call 911 as soon as they cross," Spanjer said. "It's not the locals who are calling 911, it's the actual asylum-seekers who are calling 911."

Spanjer said the municipality is waiting to hear from Canada Border Services Agency whether the community centre needs to be open to provide the refugees a place to stay. 
At a Thursday meeting in Emerson, from left to right, Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, Emerson Reeve Greg Janzen, RCMP media relations officer Tara Seel and Jeryn Peters, a Canada Border Services Agency chief of operations in Emerson. (CBC)

On Thursday, the border town of 671 held an emergency meeting with members of the Canada Border Services Agency and Mounties to talk about concerns over a recent surge of refugees passing through. 

​"In the short term, you're not going to see any immediate change," Spanjer said. "The meeting was more called to decide as to who is responsible for what, and lay the processes out on the table, so that everybody knew what the process was."

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

22 last weekend

Last weekend, 22 people made the journey — 19 on Saturday and three on Sunday — according to the RCMP.

It was the largest group the CBSA says it's ever seen in such a short time span.

Last week, another 10 refugee claimant files were opened, said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

"I certainly think people are taking their lives in their hands trying to do this in the middle of winter," Spanjer said Saturday.

"Even with the temperatures warming up, they're still subject to frostbite if they get stuck or lost out there. But that's a chance that they certainly appear to be willing to take."

At 6 a.m. it was –17C in Emerson. 

Immigration lawyer on asylum-seekers crossing into Canada

6 years ago
Duration 6:41
Jacqueline Bonisteel, an immigration and refugee lawyer, discusses why people are crossing the Canada-U.S. border to apply for refugee status in Canada

Read CBC's full coverage of refugees crossing the U.S. border into Manitoba

with files by Tessa Vanderhart and Austin Grabish