NEWS
01/11/2017 17:46 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 00:12 EST

Frostbitten refugee faces loss of fingers, toe after 7-hour trek across U.S.-Canada border

A Ghanaian refugee who almost died while walking across the U.S.-Canada border into Manitoba on Christmas Eve will lose all of his fingers, a toe and possibly his arms.

Seidu Mohammed, 24, who is being treated at a Winnipeg hospital for severe frostbite, was especially saddened by news from his doctors that he will lose a toe since he's an avid soccer player. 

"It's very bad news," Mohammed told CBC News in an interview at the hospital. " I don't know what to do right now. When I lose my toe, what am I going to do?"

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Mohammed said he fled Ghana for the United States in 2015 because he feared for his life due to his sexual orientation, but when arrived in San Diego, he was detained for a year. 

He applied for asylum but a judge denied his request, so he fled to Canada, said Mohammed. 

And so, he said, "I run for my life."

'Nobody stopped'

Mohammed and another Ghanaian man, who he met in Minneapolis, decided to flee to Canada. The two of them took a bus to Grand Forks, North Dakota, then flagged a cab and spent $400 for a ride to a spot near the U.S.-Canada border.

"There is a big farm around the border and we passed through," said Mohammed. "It was very difficult because when we stepped in that farm, the snow was [at] our waists."

For at least seven hours, the two trudged through the snowy fields toward their destination: Canada.

The pair ended up lost. On Dec. 24, they found themselves walking alongside Highway 75, near the Emerson border crossing. 

The two men tried to flag down trucks passing them by on the highway. A truck driver finally stopped to help them and called 911 to get medical help for the frozen men. They've been in hospital ever since recovering on a specialized burn ward of Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre.

"If not him, we would have died in that snow," said Mohammed. "Nobody stopped 'til this Good Samaritan, God sent [this] man. … We were about to give up."

On Monday, Mohammed and his friend met the Good Samaritan for the first time since that day.

"He was crying. We all started crying because he saved our lives," Mohammed said.

Journey 'worth it'

Mohammed is one of hundreds of refugees this year that have crossed the Canada-U.S. border into Manitoba between ports of entry.

According to Canada Border Services Agency figures, there's been a fivefold increase in the number of refugee claimants crossing between ports of entry in the past three years.

Mohammed has filed an application for refugee status and this week retained an immigration lawyer. Refugee claims are typically heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada within two months. 

He is hopeful he'll be able to stay and work in the country and is grateful for all the help he's received from various groups, including the local Ghanaian community.

"I want to say thank you to all of you who show caring."

For Mohammed, the loss of his fingers and toe is a price he's willing to pay for freedom and a better life.

"The journey was worth it. I'm happy I'm here. To go back, I lose my life," Mohammed said.

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