Fear of Trump increases Canada's refugee numbers

11:17 am on 7 February 2017

Refugees in the United States fearing a worsening climate of xenophobia during Donald Trump's presidency are flocking to Canada in growing numbers.

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Canada has seen a rise in refugee applicants in the wake of US President Trump's election. Photo: Flickr / mtsrs

Manitoba's Welcome Place refugee agency helped 91 asylum seekers between 1 November and 25 January - more than the agency normally sees in a year. Most braved the freezing prairie winter to walk into Canada.

"We haven't had something before like this," said Maggie Yeboah, president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba, which has helped refugees get medical attention and housing.

"We don't know what to do."

Canadian advocacy organisations are bracing for a greater influx of asylum-seekers, driven in part by the contrast between the ruling Liberal government's acceptance of Syrian refugees in Canada with Mr Trump's anti-foreigner rhetoric.

"They will make a dash for Canada, whether they are going to go through cold weather to die or not," said Abdikheir Ahmed, a Somali immigrant in Manitoba's capital Winnipeg who helps refugees make claims.

Since late summer, 27 men from Ghana walked to Manitoba from the United States, Ms Yeboah said. Two lost all their fingers to frostbite in December and nearly froze to death.

More than 7000 refugee applicants entered Canada in 2016 through land ports of entry from the United States, up 63 percent from the previous year, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Over 2000 more entered "irregularly" during a similar time period, without official authorisation, such as across unmonitored fields.

"The US presidential campaign, putting undocumented immigrants and refugees in the spotlight, terrified them," Welcome Place counsellor Ghezae Hagos said. "The election and inauguration of Mr Trump appears to be the final reason for those who came mostly last month."

More of these people would enter at border crossings, advocates say, if Canada did not have a policy of turning many of them away when they do.

The 2004 Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement requires people to apply for asylum in the first of the two countries they arrive in. Advocates argue the agreement inadvertently encourages people to dangerously sneak into Canada and make a claim rather than be rebuffed at the border.

If the government does not abandon this agreement, they say, it could find itself in court.

The number of refugee applicants crossing the land border under exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement has risen by 16 percent in the first nine months of 2016 compared to the same time period the year before.

In Buffalo, New York, hundreds of people are streaming through Vive, a shelter that helps refugee applicants to Canada.

Vive's client numbers, including long-time US residents and refugees, spiked last summer and have stayed consistently high since - two or three times what they would normally see a year or two ago. Vive's Canadian service manager Mariah Walker expects to see even more.

"Clients are definitely spooked by (Trump's) executive orders," said Walker.

- Reuters

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