Hundreds of asylum seekers entering Manitoba near Emerson border

Hundreds of refugees have entered Manitoba near the Emerson border crossing in an attempt to get asylum in Canada over the last year, CBC News has learned.

Refugee claimants primarily from Somalia, Canada's border agency says

Hundreds of people seeking refugee status have entered Canada near Manitoba's Emerson border. (CBC)

Hundreds of refugees have entered Manitoba near the Emerson border crossing in an attempt to get asylum in Canada over the last year, CBC News has learned.

The revelation comes following news that two refugees from Ghana were hospitalized in Winnipeg after getting frostbite while they were lost on Christmas Eve morning on Highway 75 near the Canada-U.S. border.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said 410 refugee claimants have been intercepted near the Emerson port of entry while crossing into Canada between April 1, 2016 and Dec. 8, 2016. 

Individuals attempting an illegal border crossing are intercepted by the RCMP and brought to the Emerson border crossing, where they can make a refugee claim, said Jacquie Callin, a CBSA spokeswoman.

The majority of refugees entering near Emerson are from Somalia, said Callin.

The border services agency said it is only responsible for designated border crossings and not the areas that surround them.

Ongoing issue for years

The agency declined to comment when asked by CBC how hundreds of people could be making their way into Canada. The agency referred the request to the RCMP, saying they're responsible for patrolling the area.

It's not clear how many of those individuals were able to stay in Canada — after paperwork is filled out, refugee claimants have their photos taken, are released and are given hearing dates at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

The hearings are private and not open to the public.

Derek Sabourin, reeve for the Regional Municipality of Montcalm, which covers the area just north of the Emerson border, said residents have been reporting people coming across their land for years.

Sabourin said there are no fences near the Emerson border.

'Like their northern star'

Instead, there are ditches that people can walk across.

"It's a safety issue and people don't like people walking through their properties at night," he added. "But nothing bad has happened."

They just ... walk towards the red lights and eventually they'll be in Canada.- Derek Sabourin

Sabourin said local Mounties told him in July 2016 that 41 undocumented people were taken into custody during a six-week period alone.

"They just walk on through or get picked up and brought to the border service," he said.

He said it's his understanding that most of the people are coming from Minneapolis and originally from Somalia.

"The windmills have red lights on top in the southern part of our municipality, so you know if they're walking to the red lights, I guess you could say that's like their northern star.

"They just, you know, walk towards the red lights and eventually they'll be in Canada."

Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan said he was surprised to hear about the two men who entered Canada on Christmas Eve.

He said he has never seen people walk through fields near the border in the dead of the winter to seek refuge. He also said people fleeing their countries will go at great lengths to find safety.

"The actions of these people is understandable."

Longest undefended border

Manitoba RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seel said the border between Canada and the U.S. is the world's longest that's undefended.

Seel said Mounties are responsible for securing about 520 kilometres of it. 

"We have people and technology to protect that border, but people do enter illegally," Seel said in an email. 

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


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: