NOYES, Minn. — It was just a matter of time until an asylum seeker died trying to illegally cross the border into Canada, the reeve of Emerson, Man., said Tuesday.
Greg Janzen was reacting to the death of Mavis Otuteye, a 57-year-old woman believed to be from the African country of Ghana, whose body was found late last week near Noyes, Minn.
"We were always expecting to find someone in the ditch when the snow melted, which we never did,'' he said. "(Then) the Red River didn't flood nearly as much as we expected so we thought it would be clear sailing, but now we have this.''
The Kittson County sheriff's department said an initial autopsy concluded the cause of death was possible hypothermia, though a final autopsy is still pending.
A sign post for the small border town of Emerson, near the Canada-U.S border crossing. (Photo: Lyle Stafford/Reuters)
The police said they believe Otuteye had been heading to Emerson, which is just across the border from Noyes.
Though the two communities are very close together, Janzen said it had been cold and rainy that night, and there were two other weather-related medical calls involving border crossings on the weekend. He said those who travel in the middle of the night can also become disoriented, and the area is sparsely populated.
There has been a spike in asylum seekers since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, with the most recent RCMP figures showing 859 people were stopped between official border points in April.
For the year so far, there have been 1,993 interceptions in Quebec, 477 in Manitoba and 233 in British Columbia.
"Until they close this loophole, this is going to keep happening.”
— Jason Kenney
Janzen has long been a critic of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, under which people who have made refugee claims first in the U.S. are turned back at official Canadian entry points.
However, it does not apply to people who get onto Canadian soil first, resulting in many crossing fields and ditches and avoiding the official border posts.
Those asylum seekers are allowed to follow normal refugee-claim procedures and are usually released and cared for by a non-profit agency until their case is heard.
"Until they close this loophole, this is going to keep happening,'' Janzen said of the agreement. "What scares me is next winter again.
The Canadian side of the Canada-U.S border crossing, where refugees make their way into the province, is seen in Emerson, Manitoba. (Photo: Lyle Stafford/Reuters)
"We're still getting women and children. What's going to happen to the children? One of these times the kids aren't going to make it.''
He said he also fears for the safety of his community.
"So far our residents haven't been assaulted, but that's going to happen yet, too.''
Otuteye's case is currently under investigation by the Kittson County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.