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.
The path many asylum seekers take to cross into Canada is an open field with little barriers. There are no trees, rivers or fences separating Manitoba from the U.S. It’s only an imaginary line through fields and highways.
Throughout the winter, many asylum seekers took the trek through the harshest winter conditions — some losing fingers in the process.
“There’s absolutely nothing here to delineate where the border line is at,” U.S. patrol agent with Pembina Border Patrol Station, Sgt. Scott Webster said.
Train tracks in Minnesota and open fields in North Dakota are being used as common pathways for asylum seekers to enter Manitoba.
“It’s the path of least resistance,” Webster said.
In Noyes, Minn., many asylum seekers are driving to a dead end road, where an abandoned border crossing separates the U.S. and Canada, Webster said.
From there many follow the train tracks that lead directly into the community of Emerson, Man.
“You get on the tracks, and you follow them. As long as you don’t turn around and walk away, you get to where you’re going,” he said.
Influx of crossings
U.S. border patrol monitors the crossings daily in case they need to alert RCMP of people crossing into Manitoba. As long as the asylum seekers are on the U.S. side of the border, border patrol officers can’t legally arrest them.
“Walking down the railroad tracks, walking down the road, it’s not a crime,” Webster said.
Another spot officers patrol daily is in Pembina, N.D. In this area, people are using field roads and walking north until they enter Canada, Webster said.
“They don’t even have to come into town. They skirt town completely, drop off at the exit two miles south of town and walk straight into Canada.”
People working on the farm closer to the field roads said they’re noticing an influx of people crossing.
“You just see it. They’re just hoofing across the field,” WilWand Farms employee, Tom Dockin said. While working in the fields, Dockin said he finds items left behind by asylum seekers.
“Tennis shoes, back packs, shirts, whatever just laying out in the field,” he said.
Other residents closer to town have actually caught footage of people walking through fields on wildlife cameras.
“We’ve had them on our deer cameras, we’ve had people walking down the highway here. We see taxis almost every week now,” local business owner Chad Cosley said.
Employees working at Welcome Place, a refugee settlement agency in Winnipeg, said they’re seeing a steady increase in the amount of people they are taking in as the weather warms.
In March alone, 211 asylum seekers were transported from Emerson to Welcome Place.
Webster said with temperatures quickly rising, locals in Pembina and Noyes can expect to see more people crossing through town.
“With the increase we’ve seen this winter, it’s just reasonable to think it’s only going to continue once the weather gets warmer,” he said.