EMERSON, Man. - The Mounties say 21 people crossed the border illegally this weekend near a Manitoba community where there has been a surge in asylum seekers — the latest to arrive in a method authorities say is on the rise.
RCMP say they arrested two groups of people, one group of 16 and the other of five, illegally crossing at Emerson, Manitoba, late Friday and early Saturday.
"I had a few people call me saying they were ringing their doorbell and banging their doors," said Greg Janzen, the community's reeve.
"I know one household that let a young family in until the police came," he added.
Police say all of the people asked to make refugee claims and were taken to the Canada Border Services Agency port at Emerson so they could do so.
No one could be reached with the border services agency on Saturday for word on their status.
An increasing number of refugee claimants, mostly from African countries such as Somalia and Ghana, have been risking freezing temperatures and walking through farmers fields to get over the border and into Emerson in the last few months.
Fadel Alshawwa of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council brings blankets into a community hall for refugees who may walk across the border in Emerson, Man. (Photo: John Woods/Canadian Press)
RCMP Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said in an email there has been an increase in illegal migration in Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, with the largest increase being seen in Quebec, although he said police weren't able to provide specific numbers.
The increase follows planned new restrictions in the United States on refugees.
Asylum seekers who cross the border illegally are generally doing so to circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement, which is based on the premise that Canada and the United States are generally safe countries for refugees.
That means Canadian officials typically won't admit refugees who have already claimed asylum in the United States. Those who cross illegally can make their claims once they're in Canada, according to immigration lawyer Julie Lessard.
"With the instability and insecurity these people feel in the United States they try to enter illegally, because that's the way to go around that agreement,"' she said.
The mayor of the U.S.-adjacent township of Hemmingford, Que. says there are some refugees coming across every day, usually straight into the arms of RCMP officers already waiting to take them into custody.
"They want to be noticed, they're not hiding. They want to be picked up," Paul Viau told The Canadian Press.
Politicians in Emerson met with RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency on Thursday to address concerns after 22 refugees walked into Canada last weekend.
From left, Greg Janzen, reeve of Emerson-Franklin, Tara Seel of the RCMP and Jeryn Peters from the Canada Border Services Agency speak to media after a town hall meeting in Emerson, Man. on Feb. 9, 2017. (Photo: John Woods/Canadian Press)
Janzen said Saturday that he was pleased with the communication from authorities about the latest arrivals. He said authorities were asked if they needed the town hall for the latest arrivals, which was where last weekend's refugees were sheltered, but he said the offer was declined.
The RCMP said Thursday it is increasing resources in the Emerson area to intercept border jumpers and take them to officials should they make a refugee claim.
Two men from Ghana were severely frostbitten in December when they crossed the border at Emerson.
'... the humanitarian part kicks in'
Janzen said it isn't as cold now as it was before in southern Manitoba, and he thinks that means the number of illegal crossings will likely increase.
He said he's faced some criticism and even claims he's racist for advising residents to not open their doors and call RCMP if a stranger shows up.
He said he doesn't disagree with the person who opened the door for the family, though.
"He felt sorry for them. At that point, you know, the humanitarian part kicks in," Janzen said.
By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and Morgan Lowrie in Montreal
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