Risking Severe Frostbite and Death via The New Underground Railroad into Canada

Photo by glasseyes view (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Maclean’s, Jason Markusoff reports on refugees who, in the face of tighter U.S. immigration restrictions, are risking their lives to find safe haven in Canada and on the network of people helping them do it. Desperate to flee persecution in their home countries, refugees are taking cabs to a remote section of the U.S.-Canadian border and walking for miles in perilously cold, snowy conditions, knowing not where they must go, following only a dim beacon of red flashing lights to safety.

The taxi stopped at the side of the I-29 interstate after cruising north for about an hour. Their $400 in the cabbie’s pocket, he dropped off Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal a two-minute drive short of the North Dakota-Manitoba line. The driver pointed the men toward a darkened prairie field and a row of red blinking lights, wind turbines in the distance. Walk toward those lights, and they could grasp freedom.

“We didn’t feel any sign, but we could feel we are in Canada, because of the cold—very, very intense,” Mohammed recalls. By this point, they were a couple of hours into their trek through field and brush, unsure exactly where to stop. It was Christmas Eve, and fields outside Emerson, Man., were smothered in waist-high snow.

A trucker eventually rescued them, and a month later they were on a new, safer road, toward possible refugee status in Canada. But their frostbitten fingers are gone. Iyal has one thumb and a half-thumb left. Mohammed has nothing.

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