The Current

Trek to Canada worth life-changing frostbite, refugees say

As the number of asylum seekers crossing into Canada keeps climbing, The Current speaks to two men from Ghana who made international headlines when their walk into Manitoba from the U.S. almost cost them their lives.
Razak Iyal, 35, and Seidu Mohammed, 24, crossed into Manitoba on Christmas Eve seeking asylum. The freezing and dangerous journey left both men to suffer severe frost bite. Doctors had no choice but to amputate Seidu's fingers and all but Razak's thumbs. (Suzanne Dufresne/CBC)

Read story transcript

Dec. 24, 2016 was a life-changing day for 24-year-old Seidu Mohammed and 35-year-old Razak Iyal.

​Razak and Seidu are still recovering in Winnipeg from severe frostbite following a treacherous — almost deadly walk —across the border into Manitoba from North Dakota.

Their long journey started in their home country of Ghana. When Seidu, a well known soccer player, started receiving threats because of his sexual orientation, he knew he couldn't live in Ghana anymore.

Razak says he also feared for his life.

"There's a lot of corruption.  They don't help the people who are in need. If you don't have money you don't have justice," Razak tells The Current's Friday host Laura Lynch.

The journey through waist-deep snow

Both men travelled from Brazil up into the U.S. where their asylum and work visa applications were rejected. Fearing deportation, they both decided to keep travelling north.

The pair met in Minneapolis and decided to make the trek across the border together.

"I don't want anybody to be in this situation but if you were in my shoe you would do the same thing," Razak says.

They found a driver outside the bus station who agreed to drop them off at the border. But the men had no idea where they were and ended up walking for hours through waist-deep snow, losing their hats and gloves. Their hands started to freeze and Seidu's face was so frozen he couldn't see anything.

Frostbitten refugees on road to recovery

7 years ago
Duration 2:02
Two refugees from Ghana who walked into Canada during dangerous cold in December say it was worth the risk.

"I was taking the steps of Razak because I couldn't see anything. If he walk and I can't hear his footsteps then I have to call him and get him to wait for me so we can walk again." Seidu says.

Razak adds, "I can't hold his hand because my hands are frozen, I can't do anything for him."

They reached a highway, and waited for hours for someone to stop. They were ready to give up when finally a truck driver pulled over.

"When I saw him I start screaming, 'Oh God. We thank you God for saving our life.'"

Both men had to have their fingers amputated, Razak was able to keep his thumbs.

Recovering with no regrets

In this year alone, more than 100 people have crossed through snowy fields near Emerson, Man., to make a refugee claim — and the number of asylum seekers crossing into Canada keeps climbing.

Although the harrowing journey from Ghana to Canada almost cost them their lives, Seidu says there are no regrets.

"I would say it's worth it to lose my fingers to be in Canada than to go back to my country to be murdered."

Razak and Seidu both have refugee hearings at the end of March. Soon they will leave the care of the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and move into their own apartment.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath and Winnipeg network producer Suzanne Dufresne.