WINNIPEG –A burst of refugee claimants who illegally crossed the border from Minnesota into Manitoba on the weekend had emergency officials scrambling to convert a town centre into a shelter.
RCMP said 22 people illegally crossed the border near Emerson, with 19 of those making the trek on Saturday.
RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seel told CTV Winnipeg that Mounties picked up them up and took them to a Canada Border Services Agency location where they could make their refugee claims.
Brenda Piett, assistant emergency co-ordinator for the municipality of Emerson-Franklin, said Canada Border Services called her at 8:30 a.m. Saturday to see if a local building could be opened to shelter refugee claimants.
Piett said about 14 refugee claimants, including men, at least three women, a pre-teen child and a baby, needed a place to stay while they were being processed.
Piett said about 10 were put up at the Emerson Community Centre, where they were given sandwiches, blankets and pillows.
She said they did not speak English and stayed at the shelter until 8:30 p.m. that evening. They were eventually picked up and taken to Winnipeg.
Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Executive Director Rita Chahal said as of 3 p.m. Monday, 13 refugee claimants had arrived in Winnipeg.
“They were tired. There were no medical problems,” Piett said. “I felt bad for them, very sad. The process takes a long time.”
Mohamed Mualim, 29, was one of the people who took shelter in Emerson. He crossed the U.S. border into Manitoba on Saturday.
The Somali native said he paid a smuggler $500 to drive him near the Canadian border. After being dropped off, he said he walked five hours in the snow to seek asylum in Canada.
Emerson-Franklin councillor Doug Johnston said Monday he’s concerned about the volume of people crossing into town. On top of safety concerns, he said the cost of caring for the claimants comes out of the municipal budget.
Johnston wants municipal, provincial and federal politicians for the region to have a meeting and work out a plan for the future, including better security measures to stop the flow of people across the border.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said now is not the time to strengthen the Canada-U.S. border in Manitoba.
“I would hope that if someone comes to a door and they’re freezing, that they would have that door opened,” he said Monday.
“And I would hope that people would make sure and understand that there are people who require a handout right now, and that we give them that support.”