Seidu Mohammad is recovering in hospital after trying to reach the border crossing at Emerson on Christmas Eve when the temperature was -20 C.
WINNIPEG, CANADA—A man from Ghana expects to lose most of his fingers after nearly freezing to death last month while trudging from North Dakota to Manitoba through hip-deep snow and biting cold to claim refugee status.
Seidu Mohammad is recovering in hospital after trying to reach the Canada Border Services Agency crossing at Emerson on Christmas Eve when the temperature was -20 C with a high wind chill and a major storm on the way.
The 32-year-old man and another refugee claimant from Ghana were picked up by an older man in a truck after walking for seven hours to avoid detection by officials on the American side of the border.
When they realized they would likely freeze to death before getting to their destination, they started walking on the highway and tried without success to hitch a ride before the Good Samaritan stopped.
Mohammad says he had been at an immigration detention facility in the U.S. for eight months before he decided to try coming to Canada.
He says he fled from Ghana in 2015 because of his sexual orientation, and believes he will be harmed if he’s returned.
Mohammad thought he was prepared for the cold by wearing three jackets and gloves.
“It was cold. My eyelids, my ears, they were frozen,” he said. “The doctors and nurses are saying I’m lucky because in another hour or two hours, things would have been so different.”
His companion was taken to hospital in Morris for treatment of less severe injuries.
Both felt that if they managed to cross the border, they could file a refugee claim and make their case before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
After leaving Ghana, Mohammad spent six months on planes, boats and buses to get to the U.S. before hoofing it into Canada.
He was greeted Wednesday by fellow refugees and refugee claimants from Ghana who arrived in Canada earlier. One man, who identified himself only as Mohammad, said he walked over the border from the U.S. on Dec. 3, when it was -3 C.
“It was cold, but not this cold,” said the man who first met Seidu Mohammad at the U.S. facility where their refugee claims were dismissed.
Ghezae Hagos, an inland protection counsellor working with refugee claimants at Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council’s Welcome Place, said there’s been a recent spike in the number of refugee claimants from Ghana crossing into Canada at Emerson.
Until recently, it has been Somalis travelling the now well-worn route in which they’re driven from Minneapolis, Minn., to a point just south of Emerson.
They’re dropped off and told to walk the rest of the way to the Canadian side of the border where they can legally make a refugee claim.
Hagos is helping Mohammad and his travelling companion prepare their refugee claims and hopes news of what happened to the pair will deter other refugee claimants, but he doubts it.
“I don’t think it will stop them,” he said.
“I don’t regret it,” said Mohammad. “That’s life — trying to survive.”