(GIN) – Refugees including some from Africa have been trekking through subzero weather at the northern U.S. border with Canada in a bid to escape a new wave of deportations from the U.S.
Last week, a family of eight reportedly from the Sudan managed to cross the border just as a U.S. immigration official attempted to block their way.
One member of the group said they had been living and working in Delaware for the past two years.
A record number of people seeking refugee status have been pouring over the Canada-U.S. border as the U.S. looks to tighten its policies on refugees and illegal immigrants.
Last month, 452 people filed petitions in Quebec compared to 137 in the same month a year before.
During the January – October 2016 period, refugee applicants included 895 Chinese citizens, 945 Nigerian citizens, and 575 people of Turkish nationality. In addition to these, Canada registered 90 Americans making refugee claims. Somalis also make up a large percentage of the refugee group.
Despite Canada’s more open policy toward refugees and immigrants, however, refugees can also be detained and jailed. The Vancouver-based advocacy group No One is illegal, said 87,317 migrants were detained in Canada between 2006 and 2014, and sometimes put in provincial jails. They can be detained for months, and in cases where the applicant has mental health issues, they may be held for years.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Somali community in Minneapolis are warning their fellow countrymen not to risk their lives by trekking across the U.S.-Canada border in freezing nighttime temperatures.
Minneapolis community activist Omar Jamal told CTV Winnipeg that he has counselled as many as 30 families — mostly from Minnesota but also from Ohio — against crossing the border. About half have gone anyway, he said.
Jamal said families are paying $600 to $1,000 a person for rides to the border, often with small children.
Jibril Afyareh, an advocate with the Somali Citizens League, agreed that many of those heading north are people who have already been rejected by the U.S., and are now worried about deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Afyareh said he urges people to “stay calm” and avoid the risk of crossing into Canada.
He also said the ban has had a devastating effect on those who saw the U.S. as a beacon of freedom but are now being told “you don’t belong here.”
“Obviously we need to secure and work on the safety of this country,” Afyareh said. “I do this every day, working with the youth attorney trying to stop radicalization.”
“But this (travel ban) defeats the purpose,” he added. “This sends the message that you’re not wanted by this country which is not the case.” w/pix of welcoming group at Canadian airport