Monday, April 03, 2017

Canada's welcome

 Fearful of being deported underTrump's crackdown on undocumented migrants, hundreds of people are crossing north to Canada from the USA. In the first three months of 2017, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted 1,134 migrants – the same as for all of 2016. As spring arrives and the crossing becomes less perilous, that number is likely to rise.

The people of the small town of Emerson, population 650, say they have done all they can to help those crossing illegally. Some have provided hot coffee and meals, others are members of the town’s volunteer fire department, which turns out in all weathers to help people lost or stuck in a blizzard.

Emerson sits on the 49th parallel, a circle of latitude that for 2,175 miles designates the border between five US states and four Canadian provinces. Located on the Red River, and at the junction of North Dakota and Minnesota, the town has for more than 200 years been a border community, and dealt with everything that has come with such status.

Many in the province whose nickname is Friendly Manitoba, are proud of a tradition of welcome and hospitality. Many have little time for Trump and his actions. At the same time, among some residents, frustration is growing. They say Trudeau has offered almost no financial support to meet their humanitarian role.

 Doug Johnston, a town councillor, said,“I feel, yes, they are crossing illegally. But when a mother and a child are coming in winter, it shows their desperation.”

Little J’s Cafe was full of conversation about the people crossing the border. There was a mixture of sympathy and concern. “I feel for these people because they have nowhere to go,” owner, Jackie Reiner, said. “They have no idea what they’re walking into – it’s minus 30C. They must be desperate at that point. There is no sane person who would put themselves through that otherwise.” She said the issue motivating people, those just known by a number or the shorthand of a nationality, was not going to go away. Many were fleeing authoritarian regimes, or war zones. “I would have grabbed my kids months ago and run, with the threats they are getting from Trump and other countries,” she said. “They don’t want to go back where they’re from. Trump is threatening they’re going to be deported: you run.”

Rita Chahal runs the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council in the provincial capital, Winnipeg. She urged the media to stop focussing on simply the number of people coming. “You have to have the human faces.”

Muhammad, a 30-year-old businessman and interpreter from Somalia, who entered the US illegally in December 2015, having left Mogadishu six months earlier. His journey involved travelling to the Bahamas where he paid $5,000 (£4,000) to a “coyote” to take him by boat to the south east of Florida. He was arrested upon arrival, detained and ordered to be deported, then released as he sought to make a claim for asylum based on the lawless and frequently deadly nature of life in Somalia. Having paid for a ride to a town in North Dakota, he walked for more than an hour before the Canadian authorities picked them up.

“We were freezing. We could not feel our hands,” he said. Officials in Emerson had treated them “very nicely”, in stark contrast, he said, to how he was treated in the detention centre in the US. “I was in detention and they just treat you like a criminal. I am not a criminal,” said Muhammad. Asked if he thought Mr Trump had any insight about the situation in his country, where he said his family was recently threatened by the extremist group Al-Shabaab, he said the New York tycoon had talked of Somali pirates during the election campaign. “During the campaign, he said he hates Muslims. He said Somalia was one of the countries he does not like. He is racist,” he said. “He talked about pirates – that is not everyone in the country.” He said he hoped now to be able to attend college in Canada. If his claim for asylum is successful, he would like to sponsor his wife and child. 

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