Refugees face “invisible wall” between US and Canada
By Julio Cesar Rivas
Toronto, Apr 12 (EFE).- In 2016, Seidu Mohammed lost all of his fingers to frostbite when he snuck into Canada from the United States in the depth of winter to request asylum and he fears that the crossing will become even more dangerous thanks to an accord announced last month by US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In a conversation with EFE weeks after obtaining Canadian citizenship, Seidu recounted the odyssey that took him from his native Ghana to the prairie metropolis of Winnipeg.
Mohammed, who remains a jovial man despite his misfortune, said that he fled Ghana after being exposed as bisexual while taking part in a soccer camp.
He traveled to Brazil and then embarked on the arduous northbound journey across Central America and Mexico to the US, where he applied for asylum.
The 2016 election of anti-immigrant Republican Donald Trump as president led Mohammed to fear deportation back to Ghana and he decided to head for Canada.
On Christmas Eve 2016, Seidu and fellow Ghanaian Razak Iyal took a taxi from the bus station in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to a spot near the Canadian border. The cabbie, who charged the men $600, told them they would reach Canada in 30 minutes.
But they ended up walking for hours amid a snowstorm in temperatures of -30 C (-22 F) and their extremities were frozen by the time a truck driver encountered them on the Canadian side of the border and called for help.
They spent three weeks in the hospital.
“I’m completely recovered. I’m doing a lot of the community work in my community,” a smiling Seidu told EFE, mentioning his role in founding the Manitoba African Cup of Nations, which organizes soccer tournaments for black youth in Winnipeg.
“It’s a way of repaying what the community give to me,” he said.
A few days after Mohammed became a Canadian citizen, Biden arrived in Ottawa for a meeting with Trudeau that was followed by an announcement of an amendment to the Safe Third Country Agreement that would make it impossible for asylum-seekers rejected by the US or Canada to apply for refuge in the other country.
“When I first heard it I was very terrified. I wasn’t happy at all, because it’s gonna put a lot of refugees in danger,” Seidu said. “Because refugees are not being protected in the United States.
On March 30, after the rule change took effect, the frozen bodies of eight people – members of families from Romania and India – were pulled from the St. Lawrence River, a portion of which forms the border between Canada and the US.
Authorities identified four of the fatalities as Florin and Monalisa Iordache, a Roma couple from Romania, and their two Canadian-born children: Evelyn, 2, and 18-month-old Eylen.
The Iordache family were facing deportation from Canada.
The other victims were a middle-aged couple from the Indian state of Gujarat and their two adult children.
The families are thought to have died when their boat capsized as they were trying to cross into the US from Canada.
Laura Madokoro, a historian at Carleton University in Ottawa, told EFE that it remains unclear whether the families’ desperate attempt to enter the US had anything to do with the new bilateral asylum regime.
“So my sense is, that if there is any connection it’s that the announcement of the amended agreement scared people,” the associate professor said. “It’s probably scaring people on both sides of the border.”