Increasing numbers of Muslim migrants trek north to Canada


Out of fear that he would be persecuted for his bisexuality, Seidu Mohammed fled from Ghana in an attempt to find a new home in the U.S. The 24-year-old man was denied asylum in late 2016. Mohammed and another Ghanaian native, Razak Iyal, decided to illegally cross from the U.S. into Canada, as the AP reported recently. The two took a bus from Minneapolis to Grand Forks.

On a bitterly cold Christmas Eve, they paid a taxi $200 each to drop them off in remote North Dakota, as close to the Canadian border as possible. There they hiked north for hours, through snowdrifts that rose as high as their waists. When they could walk no further, they waited by a freeway in the hopes someone would stop.

"We were standing in front of the highway looking for help for almost seven hours. Nobody was willing to help, no traffic stopped," Iyal told the AP. "We gave up. That was our end of our life." A passing driver rescued the men from the elements, but not before the cold claimed all of their fingers. Still, they said to the AP, the men were glad to have successfully crossed into Canada.

Frostbite was just one of the troubles to emerge in recent months at the border between the U.S. and Canada.

There has been a surge in immigrants making illegal crossings into Canada — particularly from Minnesota, which has a large Somali population, into the neighboring province of Manitoba. Minneapolis' City Pages, speaking on Friday with Rita Chahal of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, reported that the average number of people who made the trek for the 70 previous years was about 50 annually. In 2016, 300 asylum seekers crossed into Manitoba. In the first week of February, as many as 30 people crossed over.

And over the weekend, 22 immigrants entered the small Manitoba town of Emerson-Franklin. A bartender at the Emerson Hotel told Winnipeg's Metro News that his establishment had become a popular rest stop for migrants.

"They're cold. They're wearing their winter boots and their winter gear, but they're cold," the bartender, Wayne Pfiel, said. "They end up taking their boots and socks off right in the lobby or else I'll let them in the bar and offer them a coffee and something to eat."

After President Trump signed an executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, Canada adopted a welcoming stance. "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith," tweeted Justin Trudeau on Jan. 28. "Diversity is our strength." As The Washington Post described Canada's message to stranded migrants on Jan. 30: "Live in Canada, for a while, if you want."

Traveling in the other direction — from Canada into the U.S. — has also become fraught. A few Muslim Canadians said they have been told to turn back.

Fadwa Alaoui, a Moroccan-born woman who is a citizen of Canada, said she was denied entry into the U.S. during the first weekend in February. Alaoui told the CBC's "As It Happens" radio show that U.S. border officials questioned her at length about her visit. They wanted to know about her thoughts on Donald Trump (she was of the opinion he could do with the country as he wished, she said) and asked her about the prayers saved on her phone, La Presse reported. Alaoui, who wished to go shopping with her cousin and two children in Burlington, Vt., said she was fingerprinted and dismissed after four hours.

And a 19-year-old student at the University of Sherbrooke, in Quebec, said he was not able to attend an indoor track-and-field competition in Boston. Like Alaoui, the student said he was turned away at the Vermont border.

"I was told it's a privilege for people from other countries to come to the United States and that privilege can be taken away at any time," Yassine Aber told the CBC. A search of his Facebook profile turned up a photo of Aber with Samir Halilovic, a Canadian man thought to have joined the Islamic State in 2014.

To the CBC, Aber denied being a friend of Halilovic's, though they had mutual acquaintances and attended the same mosque. He said the photograph was taken at a wedding four years earlier. Aber also said that U.S. authorities told him he did not have the proper paperwork to enter the U.S.; Aber told the Canadian Press that his passport was valid until 2026.

Despite Thursday's judicial freeze on the executive order, some Canadians have decided to avoid their southern neighbor altogether. A school system in Ontario, for instance, canceled student trips to the United States for the remainder of the month.

"Our priority is the safety and well being of students," said Scott Scantlebury, a spokesman for the Greater Essex County school district in Windsor, to the CBC. "Having to, for whatever reason, have a student travelling on a field trip be barred from entry or be left behind . . . we're not going to proceed if that is the possibility."


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