Somali asylum seekers en route to Canada caught, turned back by U.S. border officials

Three asylum seekers tried to enter Canada by foot Tuesday morning but lost their bid for freedom after getting caught by U.S. authorities.

2 men, 1 woman the latest who tried to cross into Manitoba in bitter cold

Sherali and Sarah Shah took in three asylum seekers who had been trying to get into Canada through the Emerson, Man., border Tuesday. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Three Somali asylum seekers who tried to enter Canada by foot in the wee hours of Tuesday morning were unsuccessful in their bid to reach Canada after they were caught by U.S. border officials and the local sheriff.

CBC News has learned that two men and one woman tried to enter Canada in a field near the Emerson, Man., border through Pembina, N.D., just two days after 22 refugees walked into Manitoba.

Emergency crews took one of the men to hospital after border guards caught him running across a field just south of the U.S.-Canada border.

"It was extremely cold," said Kris Grogan, a public affairs officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Grogan said two members of the group waited inside a local gas station while their companion tried to cross the field.

Asylum seekers have been walking through fields near Emerson to get into Canada. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Grogan said the man ran away from border guards after they identified themselves, which triggered a search by the local sheriff and paramedics.

'He was shivering' 

Police found the man and took him to a hospital to be seen by a doctor.

"He was shivering. I thought maybe he had a heart attack, you know, so that's why they called the ambulance, so they took him to the hospital," said Sherali Shah, who took the asylum seekers into his apartment after the man was released from hospital.

Sherali and his wife, Sarah, made the three Somalis breakfast — paratha (a flatbread), eggs and tea. Sarah said they told her they were from Minneapolis and were trying to make it north of the border.

"They just said that they had the intention to get into Canada."

She said the Somalis were scared when they first arrived at her apartment.

"The lady, she was not answering me. She said, 'No, no, I don't know, I don't know anything.' I said, 'Don't get scared, you are in … safe hands now, nothing will happen.'"

The asylum seekers stopped at this Gastrak in Pembina, N.D. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Taking the Somalis in and then driving them out of Pembina was part of an agreement Sherali said he made with the sheriff to keep the asylum seekers out of jail.

"The sheriff, he told them, 'You know I don't want to see you here. If you leave, 6 o'clock is good for you. Otherwise I will put you in jail,'" Sherali said.

The Shah family says their doors will always be open to others who come to Pembina, N.D. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

"They were so happy and thankful and just blessing me, like 'God bless you, you did a very good job for us,'" Sarah said.

'Extremely dangerous'

Grogan said border officials on the U.S. side are becoming increasingly worried about asylum seekers trying to get into Canada.

"It is extremely dangerous to be putting yourself out into these elements where you could end up dying," he said.

As CBC News first reported in January, hundreds of asylum seekers have walked into Canada through fields near the Emerson border.

The issue came into the spotlight after two refugees from Ghana were hospitalized in Winnipeg after suffering frostbite on Christmas Eve while lost on Highway 75, near the Canada-U.S. border.

The refugees were so badly frostbitten, they lost fingers and toes. Since the story of the two men became public, dozens of other asylum seekers, including a mother and two-year-old child, have crossed into Manitoba.

The trend has attracted international media attention and on Thursday triggered an emergency meeting in Emerson between local town officials, RCMP and border guards.


​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: