The new underground railroad

Canada has a growing problem. Refugees are crossing the U.S. border, the CBC reports today. They’re going north.

“This is right off the scale for us,” said Doug Johnston, a councillor for the rural municipality of Emerson-Franklin in southern Manitoba.

Twenty-two people crossed from Noyes, Minn., last weekend alone. Another 10 crossed over last week.

Snow depth in the many prairie fields around Emerson is several feet deep in most places. With temperatures in the –20 C range on the weekend, Johnston said he is concerned about the influx of refugees and fears at this rate someone is going to die out in the cold.

Two Ghanaian refugees had most of their fingers amputated due to frostbite in December after getting caught in the cold while crossing into Manitoba from North Dakota on foot.

“If they’re coming through in the dead of the winter — we were –30 C at one time when that one gentleman came through on Dec. [24] with a northwest wind — when it warms up we’re concerned that the volume might spike up,” Johnston said.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, 410 asylum seekers entered Canada near Emerson in just nine months last year, up from the 340 in the 2015-16 fiscal year and 68 between 2013-14.

The refugees appear to be fleeing from Minneapolis. They were originally from Somalia, Ghana and Djibouti, according to Rita Chahal, the executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

“What we notice when they are in our office is that they are just extremely grateful and happy they have a chance at a fair hearing,” Chahal tells the CBC. “To us, that’s what is really important; that they are out of harm’s way.”

The Star Tribune reported on Sunday that the number of migrations usually drops off in the winter.

“People must be really desperate if they are coming in the dead of winter,” said Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg lawyer representing asylum seekers, told the Strib.

Another refugee said he didn’t expect to be in jail when he crossed the border.

A lot of them aren’t.

The locals are putting many of them up in hotels and some members of the Interfaith Immigration Council are hosting them in their homes.

“When I got to Canada, I felt so happy. I escaped from Donald Trump,” Mouna, a Djiboutian, told Maclean’s after she walked across the border in December. She suffered severe frostbite for her trouble.

Maclean’s says its conversations with the refugees reveals there doesn’t appear to be a single source telling them to head north. They just seem to know on their own.

Mouna, the Djiboutian, was fleeing a violent forced marriage (she wouldn’t give her last name). She said one of the Somalis she befriended in Minneapolis gave her the number of another woman who could help her reach Canada. That woman never gave Mouna her name, but gave her instructions to reach Grand Forks. When she and the four other Africans she travelled with needed a cab from there, the anonymous woman played English-Somali interpreter for the taxi driver and helped him relay his $50-per-passenger charge. “He told us: ‘There is Canada. You can walk,’ ” she says.

It’s not just happening on the North Dakota/Minnesota-Canada border. Twelve-hundred refugees crossed the the Quebec-Vermont border between last April and last month. That’s three times the number in a typical year.