UN concerned about plight of asylum seekers walking into Manitoba

The United Nations says it is concerned about asylum seekers who are coming into Manitoba on foot in the bitter cold to make refugee claims.

High Commissioner for Refugees to keep eye on situation in coming months

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

The United Nations says it is concerned about asylum seekers who are coming into Manitoba on foot from the U.S. in the bitter cold to make refugee claims.

"They walk for hours and there's no exact marking to demonstrate where the border is, so that's a little concerning to us," said Azadeh Tamjeedi, a lawyer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tamjeedi was in Winnipeg on a UN mission to Manitoba this week to observe the current migrant situation.

Asylum seekers are fleeing the United States on foot for Manitoba and have been crossing into the province, often in farmers' fields and on train tracks near Emerson, Man. — a small border town located about 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

Azadeh Tamjeedi, a lawyer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, visited Emerson and talked to refugees. (Azadeh Tamjeedi)

After visiting Emerson on Thursday, Tamjeedi said she is concerned about the trek asylum seekers have been making.

"What was concerning to us is the vastness of the territory and the fact that the people are taking greater risks to cross the border," she said.

Critics argue the controversial Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement sets the conditions for asylum seekers to take these risks to get into Canada.

The agreement forces asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first safe country they arrive in, with some exceptions.

One is that a refugee claim can be made if a person has arrived in Canada somewhere other than an official border or point of entry — like a farmer's field, for example.

Tamjeedi said the UN doesn't have a position on the agreement but continues to monitor the situation.

Amnesty International watching

The UN isn't the only human rights watchdog that's keeping an eye on the influx of asylum seekers coming into Manitoba.

Amnesty International recently sent two researchers to Winnipeg.

The human rights agency said it interviewed about 30 refugee claimants while here and all said they had intended on staying in the U.S. prior to Donald Trump's sweeping executive order.

The order temporarily banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

United States President Donald Trump is seen on a TV at a Somali run cafe at Karmel Square in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press)

"They were all Muslim and no one that we spoke to ever planned to come to Canada," Amnesty Canada refugee co-ordinator Gloria Nafziger said.

"That left them in kind of a state of limbo. They didn't know what was happening, they couldn't get any good solid information or advice from anyone they spoke to including legal counsel."

Nafziger said every asylum seeker  Amnesty spoke to had been detained at some point in the U.S. and not one had success when making a claim for asylum. 

Refugee claimants properly treated

During Tamjeedi's trip to Winnipeg, she spoke to two refugees who had crossed the border. 

Aside from the way migrants are entering the province, the UN has few concerns, she said.

"People are being processed in a very compassionate manner," she said.

"They were all really happy with the way that they've been treated and they were all very grateful."


​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: