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Province to open shelter for asylum seekers near U.S. border

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WATCH: Train tracks to gravel roads; follow the trail asylum seekers are taking into Manitoba – May 1, 2017

To ease the influx of refugee claimants heading into Manitoba, the province is setting up a temporary shelter in the border town of Gretna, Man.

Although Gretna is not where asylum seekers are crossing into, it’s 28 kilometres west of Emerson, Man., which has seen a surge of asylum seekers over the past few months. The plan is to start transporting refugee claimants from Emerson to Gretna for temporary shelter, which the province hopes will ease the flow of people seeking shelter in Winnipeg.

“There’s a lot of resistance to it, but once we begin to understand what this is about, and how it fits in with this grand scheme of things, the information was very helpful,” Reeve of Rhineland, Don Wiebe said.

From January 1 to March 31, 331 asylum seekers have walked across open fields and through ditches into Manitoba. Many of those making the journey are originally from African nations and fear deportation from the United States under toughened immigration laws.

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READ MORE: Manitobans still waiting for Ottawa’s assistance with Emerson border crossings

A vacant seniors building in Gretna will be turned into a reception centre for refugee claimants. Staff will provide short-term shelter, help with documentation and triage people going through the refugee claimant process in Winnipeg.

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The vacant building will be turned into temporary housing for asylum seekers. Randall Paull/Global News
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“We expect that up to 60 people could be housed… although we will carefully monitor numbers to ensure we are not overwhelming the building infrastructure,” the province stated in a media release.

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Refugee claimants are expected to stay at the facility for two to five days before heading to Winnipeg. Residents were notified of the plans and procedures at a meeting last Wednesday.

“I can’t say I’m surprised given where we are,” Madison Sawatzky, who lives near the building said. “They’re providing the services needed for these people. I have zero problem with it being two doors down.”

RELATED: How ‘very skilled’ asylum seekers are contributing to Manitoba’s economy

In terms of food, Manitoba Housing is working with local restaurants and other food services to plan for meals.

The shelter is set to open up immediately, and ready to receive asylum seekers Wednesday. Some people in the community said the decision took them by surprise, and may have been made too quickly.

“I would have like to see a little more notice, and I think the people living in Gretna would have liked to have more notice too,” MLA for Emerson Cliff Graydon said.

The province said temporary shelter in Gretna is not a long-term sustainable strategy.

“It is our hope  that by opening the facility in Gretna and staffing it with province staff, we will be able to gather better data and improve the predictability of the of the flow of asylum seekers into Winnipeg,” the province stated. “This will help us determine out long-term plan.

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WATCH: Once asylum seekers arrive in Canada, where do they go and what are the costs?

Click to play video: 'Seeking Asylum: They’ve arrived; where do they go and what are the costs?' Seeking Asylum: They’ve arrived; where do they go and what are the costs?
Seeking Asylum: They’ve arrived; where do they go and what are the costs? – Apr 10, 2017

With files from the Canadian Press

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