'Don't put your life at risk,' U.S. Somali leaders warn asylum seekers

Somali leaders in Minneapolis are warning asylum seekers not to attempt to cross the international border by foot because it’s too cold and dangerous.

Crossing border on foot 'a very dangerous situation' says Somali Community of Minnesota director

Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Community of Minnesota Inc., is warning the Somali community in Minneapolis not to attempt to cross the international border on foot. (Karen Pauls)

Somali leaders in Minneapolis are warning asylum seekers not to attempt to cross the international border by foot because it's too cold and dangerous.

"Don't put your life at risk. It's too cold, freezing. Don't try it. It's too difficult and risking your life," said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Community of Minnesota Inc., on the phone from Minneapolis.

"We're encouraging the community members to be extremely careful."

He said he's heard about a group of men who left Minneapolis Monday night and may attempt to cross the border in the coming days.

But Jamal said he's most worried about people who are heading north with children.

"They don't have winter clothing, they don't have boots or gloves. It's a very dangerous situation. There's more talk of people organizing, that's why we have to warn the community. We're going on Somali radio, social media, [word of mouth] in the mosques, restaurants."

Since the beginning of the year, RCMP said they've intercepted 69 asylum seekers crossing the border on foot at Emerson, Man.

Many are originally from Africa and have already had asylum claims rejected in the United States. Now, they're saying they feel unsafe because of measures adopted by the Trump administration, which they say are anti-refugee and anti-Muslim.

Recent immigration raids across the U.S. are adding to those fears.

These people cross the border "irregularly" on foot so they won't be sent back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country Agreement. It closes the door to most refugee claimants when they present themselves at Canadian ports of entry.

Once in Canada, though, they are able to apply for refugee status.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says both the RCMP and CBSA are keeping a 'close watch' on the issue of asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border. (CBC News )

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said this issue came up during a meeting Tuesday with RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and John Ossowski, president of the Canada Border Services Agency.

"Both the RCMP and CBSA are keeping a very active watch on the situation," Goodale told reporters in Ottawa.

"They are the professionals, they deal with 400,000 people going back and forth across that border every day …  They're redeploying resources to make sure that they've got the right people at the right place to be able to cope with these matters."

It's a situation that "bears watching," he said.

Canadians should be assured that police and border officers are doing everything necessary to protect them, Goodale added.

"They are concerned about the crossing of the border in ways that put those travelers at particular risk when you try to go through a Manitoba field in the middle of winter. That's dangerous when you're not properly equipped for it."


Karen Pauls

National reporter

Karen Pauls covers Manitoba stories for CBC national news. She has worked across Canada, U.S. and Europe, and in CBC bureaus in Washington, London and Berlin. Some of her awards include the New York Festivals for coverage of the Greyhound bus beheading and a Quirks & Quarks question show, and from the Radio Television Digital News Association for stories about asylum seekers, the Michif language, the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, live elections and royal wedding shows. In 2007, Karen received the Canadian Association of Journalist’s Dateline Hong Kong Fellowship and did a radio documentary on the 10th anniversary of the deadly avian flu outbreak. Story tips at