Seeking Asylum is a five part Global News series focusing on asylum seekers’ journey from entering the country to the challenges of starting a life in a new country.
A better life and an easier path to full citizenship are what most Somalis living in Minneapolis associate with Canada.
“Canada is the dreamland. The paradise for Somalis right now,” Saciido Shaie, a Somali-American living in Minneapolis, said.
She had no idea her friend was planning to walk across the border until he called her from Winnipeg last month.
“I’m like ‘you’re crazy, no you’re not in Canada’ and he’s like ‘no, I am in Canada,’” she said.
WATCH: Saciido Shai, a Somali-American living in Minneapolis said Canada is a dreamland for many Somalis. She says her friend, who was denied asylum in the United States, made the trek to Canada as going back to Somalia, “was not an option.”
According to Shaie, her friend was denied asylum in the United States. Rather than risk being sent back to Somalia, he decided to illegally cross the border to try and seek asylum again, this time in Canada.
Shaie said going back to Somalia is not an option.
Currently there is a sever drought threatening millions of people across Somalia. In March, the United Nations said 1.4 million children in that region were at ‘imminent risk of death’. For Somalians – it’s the third famine they’ve had to cope with in 25 years.
Shaie’s friend is one of dozens of Somalis who have walked across the border from the United States into Manitoba in an attempt to seek asylum, by far the largest national group among the hundreds who have crossed the border so far this year.
WATCH: What is Minneapolis’s ‘Little Mogadishu’?
“That is causing a lot of people to actually seek help somewhere else because this country all of the sudden kind of became not welcoming,” said Amiin Harun, a Minneapolis immigration lawyer.
Cedar-Riverside (also known as ‘Little Mogadishu) is a densely populated, mostly Somali neighbourhood in Minneapolis, where there’s a strong belief that Canada is a haven for refugees.
“Everybody knows Canada, everybody has a relative in Canada and we are a very connected community where everybody is everybody else’s cousin,” Abdirizak Bihi, the director of the Somali Social Advocacy Centre, said.
He knows a member of the community who plans to abandon his asylum case in Minnesota and instead try in Canada.
“He is planning this week to walk in the snow to Manitoba and seek refuge in Canada,” he said.
After the fear inspired by the Trump presidency, many Somalis in Minneapolis bring up Justin Trudeau’s tweet from late January about welcoming refugees when asked why Canada is such an attractive destination.
Statistics released by the federal government on March 20 show 5,520 people made refugee claims in January and February. If that pace of asylum seekers continues, it will mean upwards of 33,000 refugees claims filed in Canada in 2017 – almost 40 per cent higher than 2016.
Of the 5,520 people who made refugee claims, 1,134 were intercepted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police as they crossed the border illegally.
However, the perception that it’s easier to get into Canada isn’t realistic.
LISTEN: Inside Minneapolis’ ‘Little Mogadishu’, the Somali capital of America by 680 CJOB’S Keith McCullough
If a claimant has abandoned their asylum case or been rejected in the United States, it’s unlikely a Canadian immigration court would rule in their favour.
Neither Bihi’s friend who is planning to give up on his case in America nor Shaie’s friend who has already been rejected in the United States have a good chance at gaining status in Canada.
Which makes the dangerous trek from Minneapolis to the Manitoba border even riskier.
VIDEO: Global News’ coverage of asylum seekers crossing into Canada
With files from Reuters