Manitoba

Refugee who lost fingers to frostbite entering Manitoba pleads with MPs not to pass new asylum law

A man from Ghana who lost all his fingers to frostbite after crossing irregularly into Manitoba is pleading with MPs not to pass new refugee rules in the government's budget bill.

Under new rules, Seidu Mohammed would have been sent back to U.S.

Seidu Mohammed smiles as he shows off his refugee claim acceptance letter in Winnipeg, Thursday, May 18, 2017.

A man from Ghana who lost all his fingers to frostbite after crossing irregularly into Manitoba is pleading with MPs not to pass new refugee rules in the government's budget bill.

Seidu Mohammed, whose story focused attention on the border when he entered Canada in December 2016, told MPs on the finance committee Thursday morning that the rules would likely have barred his ultimately successful application.

"This bill would put a lot of people at risk and I don't think it should be passed," he said Thursday during his testimony before a House of Commons committee. "I'm pleading with you guys … this bill should not be passed."

Mohammed crossed into Manitoba in December 2016 through a snow-covered field, avoiding official border checkpoints in order to make a refugee claim in Canada.

Both he and the man he was travelling with, Razak Iyal, who also lost fingers to frostbite, had previously had their asylum claims rejected in the United States before coming to Canada.

The Liberals have tabled changes to refugee law that would prevent asylum-seekers from making refugee claims in Canada if they've made similar claims in certain other countries, including the United States — a move Border Security Minister Bill Blair says is meant to prevent "asylum-shopping."

Razak Iyal, 35, and Seidu Mohammed, 24, had their asylum claims rejected in the U.S. before coming to Canada. (CBC)

If these rules had applied to him when he arrived in 2016, Mohammed would have been sent back to the United States. He believes he would have been locked up in the U.S. and possibly sent back his home country.

"Deporting me back to Ghana would destroy my life. I would be imprisoned or tortured to death," he told the committee. "I don't want this to happen to anybody."

A number of House of Commons committees have been hearing testimony this week on the proposed new measures, which were introduced last month in omnibus budget bill.

New ground of ineligibility

The new provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act introduces a new ground of ineligibility for refugee protection in Canada. If an asylum-seeker has previously opened a claim for refugee protection in another country, his or her claim would be ineligible for consideration, alongside people who have already made unsuccessful claims here, been deemed inadmissible because of their criminal records, or been granted refugee protection elsewhere.

Lawyers and advocates who work directly with refugees have decried the move as a devastating attack on refugee rights in Canada.

Organizations that work with battered women and victims of sexual abuse have also raised concerns, saying the new rules will harm women who have been targeted by harsh U.S. immigration policies.

Last year, the United States changed its refugee policy to say domestic violence is no longer grounds for asylum claims there.

Women's groups say the new law will mean any woman who has made an asylum claim in the U.S. but turned to Canada to seek protection from violence will now be denied full access to Canada's refugee system.